Towel-clad conversations

Scoble and Israel discuss blogging in the context of corporations and business practices, but their main themes have implications for personal and political blogging, and especially blogging that walks a fuzzy line between all of these.

The US Peace Corps does not fit easily into the standard corporate-America box.  Nor do the majority of its employees—Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs).  Yet, it is worth examining the blogging needs and restrictions of PCVs while discussing Scoble and Israel’s book because of the fuzzy line that separates a PCVs work life and non-work life.    

PCVs are in a precarious position.  They are on the job for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for the two years they live in their host country.  They are always working.  In addition, one of the three goals of Peace Corps is to share knowledge and experiences of the host country with Americans.  PCVs are on the ground, living at the level of local people in developing countries—what they experience cannot even come close to anything Americans see in movies or on TV.  It is in sharing two years of living in a developing country that makes Peace Corps such a unique program.  Yet at the same time, Peace Corps is a diplomatic agency in many respects.  PCVs represent the American government abroad and may be the only American their community may ever meet.  Because of this diplomatic nature, Peace Corps must retain a certain image.  And to retain this image, messages about the program and the countries in which it serves must be regulated. 

Since sharing experiences is written into the work plan for a PVC, regulating becomes tricky.  Peace Corps policies on regulating, prior to the blogosphere, have been limited to reviewing written material before submitting for publication.  As a PCV that had to go through this process, I was not censored.  Rather they wanted to review my work to ensure I would not jeopardize the standing Peace Corps had in the host country, nor in the world, by writing something blasphemous about the country’s government or Peace Corps’s work in the country. 

As more and more PCVs have better access to the internet, more Peace Corps-experience blogs  are appearing, such as my former village-mate’s.  It was during my service from 2004-2006 that blogging became popular and have served to vastly improve the ability for PCVs to engage in goal #3.  Before blogging, the conversations in which PCVs engaged were one-to-one or one-to-a-few.  One-to-many (i.e., print communications) were regulated by Peace Corps.  Now, with an abundance of many-to-many conversations occurring online, new forms of regulation must be developed to retain diplomatic relations…yet not censor. 

Peace Corps issued policies regarding blogging while I served, as I believe have other US international agencies (and the military).  In these policies, blogs are likened to print publications with regard to regulation.  The policy includes requiring PCVs to get approval from their country director before posting their blog, not include pictures or last names of other volunteers without their written permission, and other specific guidelines.

The authors of Naked Conversations recommended, “If you want to be a top-level blogger, you need to get over your fear of breaking the rules.  At the end of the day, you need to tell an interesting story” (185).  While some of my friends did break Peace Corps’s rules for blogging, I would suggest that one tread very carefully when doing so.  It is one thing if you risk being fired by breaking the rules; it is quite another if you risk international diplomacy and national security by breaking the rules. 

However, due to the potentially sensitive nature of topics PCVs can write about, how do the principles of Scoble’s manifesto fit into this tricky dichotomy of Peace Corps?  I would venture to say that all of the principles outlined (on page 193-94) by the authors apply.  And more must be added…but what?  When one walks this fuzzy line of work and non-work life, bears the weight of diplomatic relations, and is obligated to share their experiences as part of their job, how should their story-telling best be approached?  Where is the how-to manual for towel-clad conversations?


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