COLLEGE 2.0It's behind a paywall (click here if you have access), so here's the opening paragraph:
Change or Die: Scholarly E-Mail Lists, Once Vibrant, Fight for Relevance
Once they were hosts to lively discussions about academic style and substance, but the time of scholarly e-mail lists has passed, meaningful posts slowing to a trickle as professors migrate to blogs, wikis, Twitter, and social networks like Facebook.Let's start from the history. Now, I know all you young kids have only heard the stories of such halcyon days of yore, if I may use an expression common back in those times. As an early subscriber to LINGUIST, H-Net networks (for historians) and other lists, I recall it being pretty different. First, there was the issue of whether these were valuable tools or a massive waste of time since only print stuff (books, articles) counts, etc. But there was a heyday of a few years where discussion really bubbled. You could post a query to LINGUIST asking for examples of some linguistic phenomenon and quickly get a set of detailed responses (on or off the list), often from the leading specialists in the world. You could also get flamed publicly by jerks, famous or not, and those flames of course could be dead wrong.
What's happened? Well, as the article goes on to argue, specifically with LINGUIST and H-Net as examples, these folks have developed clearly defined roles in their communities. For H-Net it's the book reviews and LINGUIST is really one-stop shopping for information on languages and linguistics. Young describes LINGUIST as possibly "the largest single academic mailing list out there". Go linguists, go LINGUIST!
What gets me here is the either/or mindset of the title (and the image above) … when we get a new tool, like fMRI, it's kinda dumb to abandon all previous tools for that one. We're doing with scholarly communication what we do with our technical resources: We try to find the places they're most useful for and deploy them there.
Blogs seem better than lists for rambling thoughts and screeds, so in some sense may represent an evolution of flaming. But they are not a replacement for scholarly publishing, surely, although at least one local academic blogger is apparently arguing that line. You gotta use all the tools that make sense. Where does it stop making sense? The line for me falls just before Twitter: Over thousands of years, we've developed easier, quicker ways to record and transmit information. Clay tablets and parchments were pretty slow and expensive, printing on paper quicker and cheaper, and electronic communication even slicker. We can say as much as we need (or want, sadly) and get it out instantly.
But Twitter? From Young's piece again:
"In the last month, i unsubscribed from 4 academic lists," wrote David Silver, a professor of media studies at the University of San Francisco, abbreviating his comment to stay within Twitter's 140-character limit on all messages. "Thru other means, mostly Twitter, don't feel like i'm missing much."
"I find that I almost hate e-mail now," wrote Kimberly Gibson, an instructional designer at Our Lady of the Lake University. "It feels so slow and outdated. Thus, I'm not really reading my scholarly lists anymore."
Can you really get the info you need from 140-character chunks? That's the equivalent of a whispered comment to your neighbor at a conference talk, not scholarly discussion. Beyond chit-chat, that might make for art or humor, but to abandon lists for this? Are these folks who've also abandoned reading stuff printed on 'paper'? I know I'm missing something here, but not sure what.
Image from here, with interesting and relevant discussion of this issue from a non-academic perspective.