Monday, January 9, 2012

Twit Twit To Who?

What an interesting and perplexing medium Twitter is. For the everyday humdrum tweets (few of which I subscribe to), I'm sure it's random and sporadically amusing; for celebrity updates, no doubt it feeds the frenzy of interest in mundane comings and goings (frequently screenshotted into newspaper articles); for news reports, it's a useful tool, but much of what's reported barely merits attention.

For academic goings-on, it's a weird new world, pertinently discussed by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen in his blog today: What's fascinating is how much of a driver Twitter is, or might become, rather than being a reporting or proclamatory tool. The debate I've been having with Jeffrey concerns issues of intellectual property and Twitter. Is it ethical to tweet almost point-by-point a conference paper that you're listening to? It would be, if you've asked permission of the speaker, presumably. And while you wouldn't ask permission to take notes in a notebook or a MacBook, you would ask for permission to record digitally or to video. So tweeting is like recording, rather than note-taking? And it's like recording because it's a public or publishable form, infinitely replicable through endless repeating or retweeting? If that's the case--that speakers can expect to be published even as they speak--surely that might change the nature of a conference paper? Jeffrey's blog discusses the utility of tweeting, particularly as his conference papers might be almost ready to be published. Mine seldom are: they are usually highly speculative, sometimes deliberately polemical to garner response, often quite embryonic and seeking feedback. Should I cease that type of early research presentation? Such work is not ready for (written, permanent) publication--nowhere near, in fact. If it isn't ready for that, then is it really a viable tweet-hoard?


  1. I'd love to hear your thoughts on how Twitter does or does not relate to your previous post on anonymity and authenticity: it seems to me that the proponents of Twitter you link to belong to the "we're always already collaborating, and thus the model of the isolated scholar is a fiction" crowd, as well as to the old 'cyberpunk' "information wants to be free" crowd. While I agree that my intellectual endeavors are built on and around others' ideas, I am foolish (or hopeful) enough to still believe (with the Wife of Bath?) that the individual, and the individual's experiences, are not irrelevant: I am not willing to give up my identity in the scholarly enterprise in favor of participation in an anonymous crowd. Likewise, I think my most valuable contributions to scholarship are not "information", but rather opinion (hopefully backed up with some sort of expertise)--and expert opinion doesn't seem to me to be susceptible to crowd-sourcing. But I may just be an old fuddy-duddy.