What about a purple pill?

Cool. But must we choose between a blue and a red pill? What about a purple pill?

on developing good reading/ consuming/ engaging habits

If you’ve spent some time reading through my blog, you know that I’m very interested in virtue ethics and the value of breaking some harmful habits (undisciplining ourselves) and cultivating other, helpful habits (like learning how to make and stay in trouble in ways that challenge or dismantle oppressive systems and practices). I’m not just interested in writing about virtue ethics on my blog, however. I’m also interested in exploring how writing/engaging on blogs can enable us to become more virtuous in general and how we might use virtue ethics to engage in blogging practices, approaches and attitudes that enable us to be more virtuous online. This latter goal of engaging in more effective, virtuous blogging practices involves thinking through how we blog and how we can develop habits that are more helpful (I’m particularly interested in habits that enable us to care–for others and for ourselves) and less harmful. What does this look like? Why are good habits important? Here’s one source that might provide some answers to these questions:

The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption I found out about this book via Brain Pickings (which I seem to be reading a lot lately). Check out this video for it:

Clay Johnson’s book looks intriguing; he’s interested in addressing how to deal with the increased amount of information we have access to in the era of online media and social networks by understanding it not as a problem of information overload, but one of unhealthy consumption habits. While I haven’t had a chance to spend much time thinking about his approach (or reading it; I downloaded a sample chapter to my iPad that I’ll hopefully look at tonight), I look forward to critically assessing it. I’m especially interested in exploring his suggestions for developing effective/helpful/healthy consumption habits online. One of his big focuses seems to be on thinking about healthy internet consumption habits in relation to healthy eating/dieting habits. I wonder, does he draw upon strategies employed by “the diet industry” and dieting/nutrition experts? What are the limits of this comparison?I should mention that while I appreciate the emphasis on health, I’m a little dubious about his approach. 

Here’s what I want to put BESIDE/S The Information Diet:

tweeting your thesis? good. rethinking purpose of thesis? better.

Last week, some grad students at UCL’s Centre for Digital Humanities wanted to use twitter’s 140-character limit for learning how to concisely articulate and share one’s thesis statement/topic. So they created and started using the hashtag #tweetyourthesisI was really excited to see this use of twitter; I developed some twitter assignments this semester for my students with the same goal–getting them to practice being concise–in mind. Two days after they first started using it (jan 11, 2012), Wired Campus at the Chronicle asked: You Can Tweet Your Thesis, But Should You?

According to this article, the hashtag has generated some online debate, sparked partly by a question posed early on in the use of #tweetyourthesis:

What does it mean if a student can condense an idea for such a long project into 140 characters?

My immediate response to this question is: what does it mean if a student CAN’T condense an idea of such a long project into 140 characters? And another question: What’s the purpose of our ideas if we can’t communicate them in succinct, compelling ways? Just like the original tweeted question (twestion? tweequery?), my two follow-ups are leading questions; they aren’t really questions intended to open up a discussion about how we should/shouldn’t use twitter in our academic work. Instead, they are posed with an understood response–What does it mean if a student can condense an idea in 140 characters? Implied response: Their thesis isn’t complex, rigorous, demanding, in-depth (fancy) enough. The counter–What does it mean if a student can’t condense? The implied response: Their thesis is too complex, too jargony, too esoteric.

Either way you ask it, critical debates/conversations get hung up on questions of how best to develop and communicate a thesis and whether or not to use twitter in that process. While these are still important questions (and while I’m happy to have any conversations that take twitter seriously as medium of thoughtful and meaningful expression), they are not the questions that I want to pose and critically and creatively explore about graduate theses and online technologies like twitter (or blogs) right now. Why discuss whether or not twitter should be used? It is being used in productive, interesting and empowering ways. They are not questions that get at deeper concerns about how graduate departments can and should rethink the purpose and requirements of the thesis in light of the job market, the ridiculously long time that it takes to earn a doctorate (on average, 9 years), and the shifting ways and locations in which academic publishing is happening.

On January 9th, InsideHigherEd’s Scott Jaschik wrote about recent conversations/debates at the annual MLA convention concerning the future of the dissertation in their post, Dissing the Dissertation? Much (but not all) of the discussion focused on if and how to respond to recent online technologies and their impact on how academics write, communicate and publish. Here are a few key passages:

1. on writing on the web as more than making PDFs of your articles
“Miller, of Rutgers, stressed that opening up students to digital work was a responsibility for humanities departments, given the way people increasingly communicate information. Graduate students need to learn “what it means to write for the web, with the web,” which is not the same thing, he said, “as making PDFs of your [print] articles.”

2. on rethinking scholarship and the “life of the mind”
“Whether departments want it to happen or not, the form of scholarship is going to change, he said. Rather than avoiding that, scholars should consider the ramifications, he said, by redesigning dissertations. “Once you lose the monograph, what’s the future of the long argument?” he asked. “What is the life of the mind is going to look like when it’s no longer stored on the page?” The answers will become clear when those about to become professors or public intellectuals are set free from the traditional dissertation, he said, and are encouraged to produce digital works.”

3. on learning new ways to read and to mentor
[Kathleen Fitzpatrick] “It should be our jobs to support new kinds of work,” she said. And for faculty members trained before the digital era, she said that means a responsibility to “learn how to read in new formats,” not just to look for linear arguments over hundreds of pages.

So true! It seems as if many writers/scholars fail to understand that writing online is much more than just putting something that you have written online; it requires developing new ways of connecting, collaborating, understanding, reflecting and communicating! Students AND faculty need to develop skills/ways of thinking and engaging and writing that the new online media demand. How can students be prepared for writing, researching and teaching in the 21st century without these important skills? They can’t.

Note: Fitzpatrick is the Director of Scholarly Communications for MLA and is doing some really amazing stuff with e-publishing and using online technologies to shape scholarly work. Check out her blog, Planned Obsolescence, and her MLA address: Networking the Field. No, really, read her awesome address! Here are a few great bits from it:

1. on the need to recognize online writing as writing and figure out how to put online forms to work for us
“I would argue that the challenge we face today in our encounter with the digital future of our fields does not come from a media culture, or a student population, that refuses writing; instead, it lies in the need to recognize that the forms of writing that engage so many todayare writing, and to figure out how to put those forms to work for us, rather than dismissing them as inherently frivolous and degraded.”

2. on how new forms can make us (teachers/students) better writers and communicators
“This is a challenge that many faculty today are meeting in their classrooms, by experimenting with individual and group blogs, with Twitter, and with other forms of social, networked communication, often to great effect. These modes of engagement with online writing often work, in to give students a sense of audience, of writing as an act of communication and critical exchange, that far exceeds that produced by the research paper; online, their words are subject not just to the scrutiny of a single evaluator, but to that of a broader group of readers engaged in thinking about the same questions. However formal or informal the location of the writing may appear to us in comparison with the properly MLA-formatted research paper, the act of communicating on an ongoing basis with a broader audience – practicing over and over the art of staking out a position, presenting evidence, engaging with counter-arguments – or frankly, even just the art of being interesting and amusing – can only help produce better writers, and clearer thinkers, in any venue.”

3. on needing to understand these forms and take them seriously
“This seems obvious enough. But the need to understand these new, networked, often less-than-formal modes of writing as writing applies equally to us and our own work. The horror that greets the idea of taking a blog seriously as a locus of scholarly writing – or even more, the idea of taking Twitter seriously as a form of scholarly communication – reveals a serious misunderstanding of the nature of those forms: what they are, and what can be done with them.”

4. on how scholars are already using twitter for engaging and connecting
“The standard dismissal of Twitter as a scholarly tool suggests that no serious argument can be made in 140 characters, and there’s of course a real truth to that. But that dismissal betrays a failure to engage with the ways that scholars actually use Twitter today, and the things that can be done in those 140 characters: scholars share links to longer pieces of writing; engage in complex conversations in real time, with many colleagues, over multiple tweets; and more than anything, perhaps, they build a sense of community. This community is ready with congratulations and sympathy, and is eager to share jokes and memes, but it’s also ready to debate, to discuss, to disagree. More than anything, it’s ready to read – it’s not just a community of friends but a community of scholars, an audience for the longer work in which its members are engaged.”

So, to wrap this entry (which was originally intended to be a brief discussion and archiving of the discussion about #tweetyourthesis), I thought I’d offer up my own twitter-worthy–it’s 58 characters!–thesis for this post (and a succinct summary of my thoughts on the topic): Tweeting your thesis? Good. Rethinking the purpose/requirements of thesis? Better.


Another one of my troublemaking role models: Margaret Cho

Just read Margaret Cho’s amazing post, Being Mad on Twitter. I wish I had time to detail all the ways I really appreciate this post and Cho as a troublemaker. Since I don’t, I want to make sure and archive it for later. For now, I just want to highlight a few themes for revisiting–all of which speak to my own vision of virtuous troublemaking and all of which Margaret Cho practices in her twitter exchange + blog post:

  • valuing and refusing to suppress/hide/ignore rage and anger
  • using twitter for authentic expressions (of rage, anger, love, strength, vulnerability) and truth-telling
  • talking back and refusing to accept
  • giving (self) care and expressing (self) love
  • showing/modeling for others how to be brave, honest, refuse to accept hate, and kick ass!

I love this tweet:

Reflecting with/about/on twitter

While many of my students are still not sold on the value of twitter in the classroom, I find it incredibly useful in my own research, writing and teaching; I’m hoping to experiment even more with it this spring as a writing/thinking/processing tool. I’m also interested in developing ways to succinctly and compellingly articulate how and why twitter is valuable in academic and non-academic spaces. When I first started writing this post, I was planning to provide a list of links that I had bookmarked or put in my safari reading list. Somehow that project stalled (I had started writing this about a week ago and only managed to write about one link: Can you use twitter in your classroom? ). This morning I read an article that I found on twitter over the weekend, Why Authors Tweet, and started imagining this post on twitter differently. 

Why Authors Tweet I’m always interested in exploring how people use twitter in their writing process. Up to this point, my twitter focus (twocus…STA, that one’s for you) has been on how twitter works/doesn’t work in feminist and queer theorizing, teaching and writing. This year, I’d like to give some attention to how people are using it imaginatively for their creative (and not just critical) expressions. I like this tweet from Mat Johnson:

Here’s a list of reasons, culled from the article, of why some authors use twitter:

  • allows author to be playful (Salman Rushdie) and humorous (Mat Johnson)
  • enables author to get a sense of what’s on people’s minds at any give time (Salman Rushdie)
  • gives author access to readers’ thoughts/feelings/experiences with their novels (Jennifer Gilmore)
  • encourages author to engage with readers and other writers (Mat Johnson)
  • makes author feel like they are “living in the future” (D.A. Powell)
  • expands collaboration by bringing readers into process (Jennifer Weiner)
  • provides opportunity for moving outside and resisting writing as promotion/selling–not about whose book is promoted most, but whose tweets are most interesting (Mat Johnson)

In reading through this article, I started thinking about the role of the author and what we can/should know about them. Instead of writing on this post about it (admittedly, my brain was a little stuck), I decided to do a series of tweets about the theme. I offer them up (using storify) as one experiment in using twitter in the writing process. Was this helpful? Successful? Not totally sure, yet. (note: not sure why it seems to take storify so long to load. If you can’t see my list of tweets below, click here to find them.)