Updating My Status, or, A Blog Post is a 1,000 Word Tweet

I read John Dupuis’s response to my last blog post, as well as the comments generated by his post  Someone actually suggested regarding Twitter that I should try it before I say I won’t like it. Instead, I say, give it to Mikey. He’ll try anything.

The "don’t knock it ’til you try it response" is problematic for many reasons (not that I was knocking anything). To echo one person who commented on my blog, I haven’t tried cannibalism or genital piercing either, but I don’t want to. The response also smacks of an irritating paternalism, as if a grown man who’s reasonably bright and educated is like a child who needs to be told to eat his vegetables. "How do you know you don’t like cauliflower until you’ve tried it?" Not being a child, but instead a rather large man, there’s a temptation to suggest the inquisitor take the cauliflower and insert it somewhere very uncomfortable, like the back seat of a Volkswagen. Mostly, though, the response is flawed because it assumes that any given social software application is somehow sui generis, when in fact they are all just variations on a theme. Twitter, for example, is analogous to all sorts of other things, and even if it weren’t it’s not like it’s some difficult concept to understand.

There is in fact an analogous service I have tried: Facebook. I’ve been on for two or three years and find myself going to it less and less frequently. It’s been okay, but nothing especially life-changing. I’ve been in contact with people I haven’t seen since high school, which has been pleasant. I’ve played a few games of Scrabble. I know some people use Twitter and their Facebook status update the same way, and one thing I’ve never done is update my status. I’ve never told people what I was having for lunch, or posted a Youtube video of some funny antic, or tried to come up with a clever epigram or aphorism to show people how interesting I am.

Why? Mainly because I don’t think anyone would care, just as I’m interested in very few of other people’s postings. On a moment to moment basis, I, like most people, am just not very interesting. I’m not necessarily boring, and I do think I have my good qualities, but I really can’t figure out what I could say in a few characters that would be worth reading. Writing nothing worth reading may not bother most people, but I try to keep an audience in mind and not bore you too much.

However, I’m going to give this "status updating" thing a try. Would you really like to know what I’m thinking about right now? If not, stop reading! But if so, I’ll tell you.

I’m teaching another writing seminar in the fall, and I’m changing the topic to "justice" instead of "liberalism" and revamping the readings. For the past few weeks I’ve been trying to figure out how to present a coherent story about the extremely active philosophical discussion about justice since Rawls’ Theory of Justice in the equivalent of about 8-10 essays. Keep in mind, the goal of this course isn’t to teach philosophy, but academic research and writing. It’s just that to write anything worth reading, students need something to write about.

As a research project, it’s been an adventure. Building upon my previous knowledge, I’ve been using encyclopedias, anthologies, surveys, reviews, articles, bibliographies, footnotes, and even Google Scholar to develop the reading list. (I’ve been using the "cited by" feature in Google Scholar, not the discovery feature so much.) The goal is to give students a general overview of the subject using only primary texts while tracing a scholarly conversation over the course of four decades. I think I have a good list. The students will read excerpts or full essays by some heavy hitters, and in one unit every source we read will cite all of the previous sources we’ve read, in order to show how a scholarly conversation develops over time. A seminar should tell a story about the topic. This is naturally only one story among many possible ones, and I make that clear, but in the summation at the end of the semester it should be obvious that we’ve outlined an important and engaging dialog about the topic.

In addition, the readings have to lend themselves to the teaching of writing and research. I’ve also been thinking about that topic, and have formed some rough opinions. These classes are supposed to teach argumentative academic writing. Thus the best sources provoke argument. Often writing/ composition/ rhetoric is taught in English departments, and just as often the courses are focused on interpreting literature. In a course like that, the students get a novel/ poem/ play/ film to discuss and write about. There is a clear difference between primary and secondary texts, and the students are writing secondary works while studying primary works, for the most part.

It seems easier to me to teach primary sources that are themselves examples of argumentative writing, and political philosophy works very well in this regard. Philosophers are trained to argue, not interpret. And political topics tend to be engaging to a lot of people simply because they’re an inescapable part of life. So in my class the students are reading the sorts of essays they’re writing. There’s not much of a distinction between a primary and a secondary source. If everything works well, the whole course coheres. My goal is the perfect writing seminar, in the sense that A argues in Kierkegaard’s Either/Or that Don Giovanni is the perfect work of music because it best exemplifies what makes a classic work of art: an absolute correlation of form and content. Every text we read in class is both something to write about and an example of how one should write argumentative academic prose, and they’re all arguing with each other.

Is this interesting to you? It’s more about writing pedagogy than librarianship, but I can see where it might be. Teaching writing and research has certainly made me a better librarian. The skills I’ve gained carry over into research consultations and instruction sessions all the time. Thinking about the nature of scholarly exchange in an academic discipline is the sort of thing lots of academic librarians do.

This is just the merest summary of activity, though I’ve been considering further developing some of these rough thoughts into posts or articles. What’s here says little of substance, and yet I still can’t figure out how to condense it to 140 characters. To be clear yet again, I’m not knocking any of this, even if I haven’t tried it. I just know what I want to read and how I want to spend my time and interact with others.  Maybe instead of macro-tweeting, I should just write:

Wayne Bivens-Tatum just dropped in to see what condition his condition was in.


5 thoughts on “Updating My Status, or, A Blog Post is a 1,000 Word Tweet

  1. “The “don’t knock it ’til you try it response” is problematic for many reasons.”
    When will we have a logical term for this fallacy? I see it popping up left and right these days.
    “Philosophers are trained to argue, not interpret.”
    It took me four years to figure this out. I never understood that my professors were more interested in what Plato was saying than what he was doing in the text. But I think I had the same problem in many of my lit. classes, where rhetoric has basically taken over.
    I am on Twitter, but, like Myspace, it is something that is very easy for me to forget about. I may have made two or three tweets, all in all. That being said, I also use Facebook, mostly to keep in touch with people, and LibraryThing on a regular basis. What I don’t understand is why you need half a dozen of the same tool when one or two work just fine already.

  2. I’ve been using Twitter for just over a year now and I’ve recently reached the point where I no longer find it useful, at least not in a professional capacity. Even though it keeps me up-to-date on contemporary lib-issues, those issues that have any real importance tend to float to the top eventually in longer form, often as more developed blog postings. So once I can get over my desire to know everything the minute it happens, the results are equally (if not more) useful.
    As a social tool, again it keeps me up-to-date but lacks any value as a social experience when compared to calling a friend or having lunch. If anything, it gives me a reason to contact others using more “traditional” methods, but then, why should I need a mid-day tweet as a prompt?
    There is one aspect of Twitter that I find useful. As a Los Angeles resident, a quick twitter search will let me know in real-time whether what I just felt was an earthquake or just one drink too many.*
    I’m not saying anything you haven’t already touched on. I only wanted to say that as someone who is an earlier adopter and enjoys playing with new technologies before giving it serious thought, my overall experience with Twitter over the past year+ leaves something to be desired. The amount of effort and time I’ve put into it has had a dramatically low ROI compared to blogging.

    *I’m being glib. So here’s a serious example. As a student in an MLIS program, following job announcements via Twitter does keep me up to date on what acad. libs are looking for and where and this allows me to constantly assess my focus and professional activities. But then, I could just real the Chronicle and ALA Joblist and get the same result. Six and half a dozen…

  3. I’ve been trying to make it clear I see the value of Twitter et al. as social tools, just not ones I want to use. I, too, keep up with job ads and always have, but I do that by subscribing to the rss feeds of several job sites. As for finding a lunch companion or meeting up with someone, as far as I know nobody I’d normally lunch with uses any of these services. And fortunately, we don’t have too many earthquakes in NJ.

  4. Hmm. I’m not sure why anyone would assume I hadn’t seen Mallrats. Is it because I don’t use Twitter?

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