#Twittergate, Citationality, and the Future of Academe

By in acdemia, digital on October 2, 2012

If I think that History & the Digital in a Post September 11th World, mean that history is no longer history as such due to the proliferation of new handheld media devices and social media and the pace and type of information exchange, it stands to reason that I’d also believe this has huge ramifications for the future of the Academy.  Surprise! I totally do.  I spent the first year of my PhD program trying to figure out how I imagined my work and my teaching in this new future.  This was part of what I played with as a participant of Future Class, and experience I documented with an online field journal.  And then I had to clamp down and work on my primary PhD project, teaching, etc, expanding how I was thinking through these things along the way.

And then, #Twittergate 2012: The etiquette (and ethic) of live-tweeting a conference or lecture happened.  Tressie McMillan-Cottom wrote up one of her fabulous blog posts on it. And I was left with my question.  What does all this say about the future of Academe?


The two biggest changes that I feel we need to come to terms with in academe are the following:

  1. the changes in information access (the towers have been digitized and are slowly falling down)
  2. Ciatationality/Iterability (oh humanism, how you haunt me)

The ways people access our academic work, and the things they choose to cite are different now than they used to be. This means that citations are no longer just things that happen in papers. They happen in and from blog posts and social media.  They are formatted to fit the medium where they appear. If you are giving a talk at a conference or a lecture, and someone tweets something from you, having disclosed their location (at your talk, usually done once with tweets following), and given an conference or lecture an appropriate #hashtag, I have a very hard time seeing how this is not a citation for the twitter age. The ability for others to then retweet (RT) or modifytweet (MT) with the username of the original tweeter just becomes the iterability of the ideas you are sharing.

The thing about this digital and the current situation that the Academy finds itself in is we no longer have years and years to make our arguments, formulate our ideas, practice them with a select group of people, write them out, have them edited and reviewed and modified and then sent to the public.  Things have changed, especially in terms of how people interact with information.  A majority of the people I interact with (mainly my students) do more reading on their smartphone and computer screens than they do from books. Just like with Journalism and History, they are used to being able to have a question, google it, and have it instantaneously.  As a result, things get old really fast, especially if the interactive practice of questions and response, or response and modification aren’t built in to the format. If we are not up for real time feedback on our work, being questioned, or having people outside the room know our thoughts and ideas when this dialogue (and the writing sharing of it) is at least 50% of our job? I don’t want to sound fatalistic, but… I’m scared we are going to keep failing, especially in areas like the Humanities.

The ability of the greater public to latch on to our work and feed it is what, I think, makes the humanities and social sciences such a fun place to play. But we have to be willing to let go of some control and let ideas do that thing that ideas do: grow. Twitter is a great tool for that.  And I still maintain that, if you are giving a talk that people find important, interesting, problematic, or challenging enough to tweet, that means your work is doing what it should supposed to do.  Generating more thoughts, ideas and questions.  Or maybe I’m the only one who doesn’t want to have the final say in the work I am doing. Instead, I truly do want to see it grow.

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