Friday, March 09, 2007

It's NEVER Been Done Before?

I love listening to people talking about the web, but whenever I hear the words "this is done now on the web, and it's NEVER been done before" it sets my teeth on edge. And so when I was listening again to the speech David Weinberger, an expert on blogs, gave on the Library of Congress' excellent "Digital Future" series of talks (available to listen free here), and heard him say these words, my teeth gave an answering twitch.

Especially when I'm currently engaged to a very similar analog process to the one he was talking about.

What he was talking about was this: the web of what he calls subjective knowledge between bloggers--people responding to other bloggers, and readers learning from that knowledge. Voice in writing being important in whether people will believe the stuff or not. People pointing away from the current writing by "linking" to other writings.

I'm halfway through an academic thesis in the humanities, and I say "pshaw" to the idea that these things have never been done before. Has David Weinberger ever read through any significant body of academic writing, or tried to write a paper in response to it? What is good academic essay writing but a series of links provided in citations? What is a good research/response essay than a response directly stating an opinion (agreement/disagreement/partial agreement) about what another critic has been saying?

And anyone who's tried to read lots of critical essays is pretty aware that voice is a huge element of whether this genre is taken seriously.

This is not to say that David Weinberger's talk isn't an excellent one, worth re-listening to even 3 years (so long in web time) after it was first given. And I'm actually quite fascinated by what he has to say about forgiveness and unselfishness as being key elements of blogging. (Forgiveness because the writing isn't as polished and many readers accept that before reading, unselfishness because of the linking.) Especially because bloggers are so often accused of egotism and sloppiness.

But as to the fact that a web of semi-subjective knowledge (complete with links to other bits of knowledge it's responding to) has NEVER been done before, I say "pshaw." I'm in the midst of reading sources and creating an 80-page paper that proves that's not the case.

This connection between what happens in blogging and academic writing does give me a fascinating idea/analogy for teaching university students what academic writing's all about, however. Those raised to be web- and My Space-literate, if they're taught how to harness those skills for academic writing, could bode well for the future of academic writing. What a fascinating thought.

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