What made blogs so immediately popular, both with readers and with writers, was the very fact that they changed and developed over time, existing not as a static, complete text but rather as an ongoing series of updates, additions, and revisions. This is of course to be expected of a journal-like format, and might easily be compared to any form of periodical or serial publication; the blog as a whole remains relatively constant, even as new ‘issues’ or posts are added to it. But the fact that a blog’s readers return again and again in order to find those new posts might encourage us to ask whether there is something in the structure of digital authorship that privileges and encourages development and change, even beyond the obviously diachronic aspect of the blog’s structure. When web pages are not regularly updated and attended to, after all, they’re subject to rapid degeneration: aging styles, outdated standards, and worst, perhaps, ‘link rot.’ Such ephemerality makes it arguable that the unspoken contract between the author and the reader of a piece of digital text is radically different from that between the author of a book and its reader; rather than assuming that the text is fixed, complete, and stable, the reader of a digital text may well assume otherwise. As Clifford Lynch suggests, we do not yet fully understand what ‘reader expectations about updating published work’ will be (Lynch, 2001); will the assumption come to be that a text must be up-to-date, with all known errors corrected, reflecting new information as it comes to light, in order to maintain the ‘authority’ that print has held? Sites such as Wikipedia seem to indicate a growing assumption that digitally published texts not only will but should change over time. Digital text is, above all else, malleable, and the relationship between the reader and the text reflects that malleability; there is little sense in attempting to replicate the permanence of print in a medium whose chief value is change.
HASTAC stands for Humanites, Arts, Science and Technology Advanced Laboratory. It is one of the most exciting online academic projects out there that I know of.
Based on the medieval model of the scholarly monk, academic research can often seem and in fact be solipsistic. Often the thoroughness required for postgraduate study hyper-specialises subjects and therefore leaves scholars with little time to actually communicate to others what they are doing.
The web is of course changing this dramatically, and even in an age in which “peer review” and “publish or perish” remain the terms to know, academic culture in the humanities is being quickly transformed. Teachers, researchers, librarians, academic administrators, university students and all possible combinations and variations thereof are now continually sharing publicly what they do and when, where and how they do it.
For people studying how Internet technology affects the way we do and think about things (and who study the Internet as a way or ways of thinking too), contributing to the social construction of knowledge inside and outside the brick-and-mortar classroom and library is not just a demand of the times, it is a natural, essential part of our research. HASTAC knows this well and is indeed, conceptually and pragmatically, an ongoing exercise in 21st century scholarship, blurring the borders between the institutional and the personal, the online and the offline, etc.
Therefore I am profoundly honoured to have been nominated and selected for the HASTAC Scholars Program. I’ll be one of more than 145 scholars from around the world who will share their adventures in digital academia through blog posts, tweets and other online resources. I am really proud and happy that my colleague Claire Ross and I will be representing University College London this year.
The 21st century scriptorium has many windows. It is not a room with a view but a room with many views; views that often juxtapose themselves. The screen and the keyboard (and often the screen as keyboard) can no longer be only at one single particular place and time on campus.
We all work from a particular situation in a specific location at a given time, but simultaneously there are hundreds, thousands of others working at their own desks in different countries, languages, time zones, disciplines. Establishing connections among us is not an end in itself; it’s merely the beginning.
The conversation continues.