Thursday, November 17, 2005
Some interview questions I answered about a month ago have appeared in a new piece in Slate, by Robert S. Boynton: "Attack of the Career-Killing Blogs". Make sure to read Rebecca Goetz' "Don't Fear The Blog" Chron piece as well, if you haven't yet.
I like Boynton's stuff, appreciated being asked for an interview, appreciate that this piece, despite the alarmist title, has the same positive point of view as Goetz (and pretty much everyone who writes about this except Tribble. That's heartening.) Still, in the piece I come off as footdragging. The reason is that I confined myself to canvassing obstacles. I suppose I did so because I take it to be obvious that, since some blog posts are intellectually sharper and also more influential than some academic papers, if you credit the paper but not the post you are doing at best an imperfect job of tracking quality and quantity of publishing output. Still, there is a problem figuring out how to do better. "It is utterly absurd to propose giving someone credit for activity with no barriers to entry," I emailed. If tomorrow it were written that you could get tenure for a book, or a lot of articles, or a whole lot of posts - man, would you start to see a lot of puffed up posts. One of the things that has made academic blogging good so far is precisely the absence of any such distorting incentive schemes. That means the problem needs consideration. Another bit:
"For the time being," says John Holbo, an assistant professor of philosophy at the National University of Singapore and the founder of a group blog called The Valve, the most academic bloggers will receive is "a bit of 'service' credit, for raising the department's profile."
I do think 'service credit' is in principle too low-ball; also, a category error. This round peg fits no existing square hole; there is an inevitability to it getting hammered into the lowest square hole. I think, realistically, this is where we are.
One last sound-bite:
Holbo suggests that from one perspective, blogging is an affront to the traditional idea of the university. "You want to graft this onto the last living medieval guild system?" he imagines a senior scholar protesting.
I think this is a very important point. 'Tenured for blogging' sounds absurd, no? - with its contrary connotations of permanence perched on the cusp of the moment? The ivory tower tug of cathedral against the bazaar of public intellectual rough and tumble. This means, I think, that 'blogging should enter the scholarly mainstream' simply must be acknowledged as the thin edge of a significant wedge. Perhaps saying so is impolitic; perhaps the proper tactic is for bloggers to argue that only some relatively incidental intervention in the reputation economy - minor monetary twiddle - is needed to accommodate a new medium. (Some combination of old-fashioned peer review, new-fangled P2P review, and sheer metadata machination: maybe tenurati could spin off of technorati? I kid.) Still, it seems to me true that the great good of blogging points beyond its nice little self to prospects for broader shifts in publishing, teaching and the very conception of what the academic life of the mind should be like.
One of the reasons why talking about blogging is interesting - really isn't just us hobbyists gushing tediously about our hobby - is that 'blog' is a placeholder for potential that doesn't yet have any other name.
This means it's high time I shrug off my jetlag and write up thoughts about the interesting discussions I had with Bob Stein, Ben Vershbow and others, while I was visiting scholar in residence
houseguest on the foldout couch at the Institute For the Future of the Book. (And Bob and Ashton were kind enough to take me to Monkeytown, where I met the real Damian Lacedamian and ate good food. The show was OK that night. A little bit Brak, a little bit Brackhage in overall visual sensibility.)
Best of all were the VERY interesting ideas that raced round a big table later at the LA meeting. (I didn't come up with 'P2P review'. That was someone else's joke.) I got to meet PZ Myers and Juan Cole. (I notice that PZ just got into a two-man cage match with Scott "Dilbert" Adams. And, the way I score it, Adams actually managed to come in third. Ouch.) Here are some links to other attendees blogs and posts about the meeting - some with pics; no good ones of me. Manan Ahmed, Christine Boese, Danah Boyd, Brian Carroll, Jenny DeMonte, Brian Drolet, Clifford V. Johnson, John Mohr, Larry Pryor, Karen G. Schneider, Justin Hall.
Discussion is ongoing at Sidebar (and check out the Institutes's general blog.) Bob has a long drafty post up right now about a notion I nudged forward (and was gratified when several others took and ran it approximately where I was going.) Thinkr. (Too cute? Pajamas Media for the elbow patches set? Hope not. How about Glasperlen Press, as a name for the publishing wing that might go with?)
But what IS it?
You know what I said about shrugging off my jetlag? I lied. I'll tell you more about my latest dreams of the future of academic blogging and e-publishing after I've gotten yet more sleep. To quote the not wholly irrelevant epigraph from The Glass Bead Game:
... For although in a certain sense and for light-minded persons non-existent things can be more easily and irresponsibily represented in words than existing things, for the serious and conscientious historian it is just the reverse. Nothing is harder, yet nothing is more necessary, than to speak of certain things whose existence is neither demonstrable nor probable. The very fact that serious and conscientious men treat them as existing things bring them a step closer to existence and to the possibility of being born.
tract. de cristall. spirit.
ed. Clagor et. Collof. lib. I, cap. 28
(in Joseph Knecht's holograph translation
Plus I'm having a whole world of computer problems.
For although in a certain sense and for light-minded persons non-existent things can be more easily and irresponsibily represented in words than existing things...
What does that do to the private language argument?