One of the things about the Internet is its ability to turn your life perspective on its head. If you read my blog (and, well, you are probably doing that right now), you will know me as, I hope, a powerful independent woman -- hopefully, I come across as mouthy, not afraid to speak the truth, smart, sassy ... you get the picture.
Like many site owners, I make available an email address for you to contact me and, like many site owners, I often trace back referring sites for traffic. But finding out who is reading your site is something of a mixed blessing. Particularly when the contact is coming from academia.
Sometimes, I get emails from people who ask if it is OK to use my work. It is. As long as you give credit. Sometimes, it's a note from someone saying that a particular post was helpful to them in a given assignment. These kinds of notes lift my spirit. Two things sink my heart: requests for interviews and traffic from course sites.
I no longer agree to do interviews for students who wish to make me and my life part of their term papers. I don't answer questions any more, either. You can use my material -- I can't even track whether or not you cite me appropriately, but I will follow up if I find that you haven't -- but you are not getting more than anything that is here. No, not even if you are a PhD student and my life and work are somehow "critical" to your thesis. I'm done. And, yes, I'm slightly angry and resentful about how few of you do your homework, your preparation: reading about disability, disability arts and culture, the disability rights movement, dance, and disabled performers. I know these academic fields; I know what's out there; I know many of the people who've written it. Your lack of preparation does not make me feel inclined to trust myself to you -- no matter how ardent your appeal. NB: that's true for those of you who want to make documentaries, too.
Then, there's course sites. Every time I see a referral from Blackboard or some other educational course site, I go back and reread the post that has become part of someone else's lesson plan. I wonder what they are doing with it. What are people saying? How does the discussion go? Would I be horrified? Yes, probably. I think about how I would teach the post -- what I would combine it with, what points I would see as critical, how I would facilitate discussion. Risks I would take. Language and ideas that I would consider acceptable/offensive. What I would do about stuff that came up. I mull it over; hope for the best; close my eyes and try to forget.
Showing up in academia is different from finding that someone has linked to a post or two because the internet links only to your material. You can find out what someone thinks of your site; you can read the comments. Sometimes, too, you find personalized stuff about you (or your internet persona). But that is different. The internet is a sprawling mess of actions and reactions. Even when the post is locked, I am happy to find that my work has left my site and become part of a conversation somewhere.
By contrast, academia turns you (or your persona) into a project for study. It's a difference of purpose. A difference of focus. It's not quite a medicalization of a disabled body -- not all academic gazes are medical. But it does include that same kind of power dynamic. There's no way to know who is staring. And how. There's no way to know what meaning or what kind of value is being read into your life. You become something someone teaches and other people learn. You are nothing more than a topic, a passing reference in someone else's education.
And because the world of disability rights is still so new to academia, I fear that I and my blog often land in a hostile environment. Strange: what the Internet giveth, it also taketh away.