Whilst drinking copious amounts of wine at the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities launch party last night, I got into some interesting discussions with a group of digital anthropologists about the use of social media by academics. Of particular interest was the ingrained impact of the peer review, and why aren’t academics particularly when the research is in digital things, utilising online publishing? Eprints, institutional repositories are one thing, but ‘new technologies’ are on a whole are a no go area. Why? Well a central problem is how success and more importantly failure are determined in the academic environment. The people who decide whether you are doing brilliant, mediocre or pretty poor work are your own peers. Your reputation in the eyes of your peers is of up most importance and is a valuable asset to young researchers like myself. If you dont have a good rep, you aint got nothing. This has been hit home in my patronising ‘how to be a good researcher’ workshops. (you aren’t meant to share your research to all and sundry, just to the top most elitist, most boring hardback bound journals that only one, if you’re lucked two, experts read, that’s how you get ahead in this game) But that is an aside. The concept of academic reputation keeps coming up again and again, and on the whole it seems that using web 2.0 tools to disseminate your work and to create a dialogue are frowned upon, and that the majority of academics never ever use social media and web 2.0. Does that mean, because I have this blog, I contribute on the Centre’s blog, and my tweeting habits are actually detrimental to my academic career??
And more importantly do I want to be stuck in an ivory tower of research, waiting patiently for the peer reviewed paper on social media to be published, whilst other people are blogging away on the same research, so when it finally does get published, the research is old hat?
I’m not painting a pretty picture am I? This is where working for the centre is proving useful, I’m surrounded by like minded academics, who… shock horror.. blog and tweet on a regular basis, and it hasn’t done them any harm. But are they the minority, the exception to the rule, am I going to come a cropper, 5-10 years down the line, when I’m not going to be taken seriously because I happen to have a digital identity?
That sounds like a horrible future if that’s the case. Someone or something needs to push or pull (either or, I’m easy about which) academia out of the dark ages into the 21st century. Why o why, is academia so slow to catch on? I don’t mean implementing technology for technology’s sake – because its new and cool – but I mean seeing the benefit in things that are actually working, and have clear benefits for research and discussion.
I do hope times are changing, I think things will/should/need to start moving. I envisage a future where blogging, tweets and social collaborative tools, take on a key role in academic communication. I also think it will enhance research practice, not make it superficial and mediocre, which was suggested to me a couple of weeks ago. Undoubtedly incorporating web 2.0 and social media into research practice is going to change how academics and people in general deal with information. Potentially that is what the problem is, academics are scared of change, or don’t have time for change, or just cant be bothered with change. But digital innovation is continuing to grow and is beginning to be embedded into everyday life. It’s not something people can shy away from any more. And its certainty not something that should damage your reputation.
Just in case I’m wrong and the digital revolution doesn’t come about, I will put down my holographic pitch folk and reiterate that the opinions expressed on this blog are my own and not that of my employer.