Wednesday Night Links

Friday is the last day of class for fall semester not counting final exams, but thanks to a prodigious frenzy of reading and commenting on student papers yesterday, I’m more or less caught up on my grading, at least for a day or so, so I just wanted to point to a few links and things:

  • First, you’ve probably noticed by now that YouTube has gone widescreen, chnging their aspect ratio from the more televisual 4:3 to the more cinematic 16:9.  Film in Focus mentioned this story a few days ago, but because of Thanksgiving travels, I’m only now getting around to reading it.  Charles Trippy has a creative video commenting on YouTube’s new dimensions.  I’m intrigued by this decision for a couple of reasons.  First, it makes business sense.  It gives YouTube more room to compete with other video sites such as Hulu.  But I’m also intrigued by the idea that the cinematic model is being privileged here, with TV once again being defined as the “bad object” in comparison with film.  But the new aspect ratio also seems to deny, or reject, the broadcast model associated with YouTube’s original self-definition.  Again, I’m not saying that the shift to widescreen is bad, but I am intrigued by the degree to which the new aspect ratio is based on certain (arbitrary) aesthetic standards.
  • Speaking of YouTube, the inevitable YouTube documentary, I Want My Three Minutes Back, is now being promoted and circulated at film festivals.  The trailer, available at Spout.com, highlights many of the astounding statistics, including the detail that ten hours of video footage is loaded to YouTube every minute, but again, sheer numbers are less interesting than the YouTube ideology that is being promoted in the trailer, one that treats YouTube as a community while ignoring how that community is constructed and how it is based on certain (relatively traditional) notions of stardom and discovery.
  • I saw Hugh McGuire’s Huffington Post article on why academics should blog a few days ago, but it has been circulating among my del.icio.us friends recently, so I figured I’d mention it here.  Obviously, I’m essentially in agreement with McGuire on the basics.  Blogs can help academics improve our writing and expand our audience (among other things), but it’s interesting to have a reading of academic writing from an “outsider” perspective.
  • Speaking of academic blogging, Kairos recently announced their Call for Awards, which includes the John Lovas Memorial Weblog Award, an award for “an outstanding blog devoted largely to academic pursuits.”

8 Comments »

  1. G Said,

    December 5, 2008 @ 3:18 am

    You really don’t have problems with the Huffington Post article? The guy is spouting a lot of crap like he’s an expert. It’s obnoxiously written and makes a lot of bad assumptions.

    1. I happen to read a lot of academic writing that is extremely well-written and insightful. This isn’t everything but this isn’t a minority either. I’m not sure why some guy who writes bad online articles and takes 1 masters level course thinks he’s entitled enough to imply that all academics write worse than he does. He doesn’t know how they all write.

    2. I appreciate the idea that you can get academic writing out to more people in a blog, but why do things have to be accessible to absolutely everyone to be meaningful? Not everyone cares, and that’s their own fault, not academia’s fault. He seems to judge writing based on how many people are reading it, and such a quantitative understanding of writing’s quality is absurd. I think that having a few interested people read obscure journals is totally fine. It’s a great little community and most people don’t care anyway. It’s great to share with more people, and to share with fewer people.

    3. Does he really think blogs are the only place a professor would get called out on “bad ideas”? Does he not know about peer reviews, colloquia, colleagues, anything? There are a lot of checks in the system that are a lot better than writing a blog entry and having some jerk like him say it’s bad.

    Every field has its issues, and I think academia as a whole doesn’t deserve a pathetic, meaningless, badly written condemnation by a lame douchebag such as Mr. McGuire.

  2. Chuck Said,

    December 5, 2008 @ 7:33 am

    All good points, G. I have to admit that I didn’t think about the article as carefully as I should have. Chalk it up to having too much on my plate at the end of the semester. That being said, here is one instance where you *are* calling me out on a “bad idea” (or at least faulty argument) in the space of a blog entry. :-)

  3. Mark Said,

    December 11, 2008 @ 6:03 pm

    @G

    To your first point Mr. G.

    I have black friends so I am not a racist. I have gay friends so I am not homophobic. And I have academic friends who write well so I am against blogging.

    Best,
    mb

  4. Hugh McGuire Said,

    December 11, 2008 @ 6:10 pm

    Hi G, Chuck,

    Firstly, with some significant feedback suggesting I might be a douchebag, or at least should consider the question more thoroughly (both at huffpo & on my own blog), I wrote a less-douchebaggy follow-up here:
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/hugh-mcguire/why-academics-should-blog_b_146167.html

    Some of the problems with the initial article are address in the second, and I’ll stand by the second more firmly than the first. On to the problems:

    >1. I happen to read a lot of academic writing that is extremely well-written >and insightful. This isn’t everything but this isn’t a minority either. I’m not >sure why some guy who writes bad online articles and takes 1 masters level >course thinks he’s entitled enough to imply that all academics write worse >than he does. He doesn’t know how they all write.
    I don’t imply that all academics write badly. I say that there is a prevalence of bad writing, which I will specify to mean: there is a certain type of academic writing, fairly common, but not necessarily the majority, that I think should be put through more rigorous editing. Again not necessarily the majority, but a significant portion.

    >2. I appreciate the idea that you can get academic writing out to more people >in a blog, but why do things have to be accessible to absolutely everyone to >be meaningful?
    A fair question. I hadn’t considered it quite like that, but as a member of society, only tangentially associated with academia, my answer is: I think, in general, ideas, information, knowledge should be accessible to the world and in the public sphere because I think on balance that makes for a more stable, and innovative society. I think that’s my answer, though this question of meaningfulness will send me back to my thinking cap.

    >Not everyone cares, and that’s their own fault, not academia’s fault.
    No, I’m more interested in helping those of us who are interested get access to the ideas that currently are locked up in academia. I have been greatly enriched by the access to academics through podcasting, and to a lesser degree through blogs. So it’s a plea from those of us who *do* care to be able to access that which we care about.

    >He seems to judge writing based on how many people are reading it, and >such a quantitative understanding of writing’s quality is absurd.
    Well, I don’t think that’s quite fair. a) I judge writing on how good and interesting it is (to me, sure) and b) my interest in having more people read something is more about the value it brings to the readers. But I’m certainly not saying that “more people reading a text makes it more valuable.” I do think there is more value, though, if the people who would be interested in reading a particular text are able to do so.

    >I think that having a few interested people read obscure journals is totally >fine.
    Sure, if that is the only group interested in reading the texts, which may not be the case. From an academic view, one problem is that there is less cross-pollination of ideas than there would be if the journals were open. And in fact, that is another hobby-horse of mine, open access journals, online… I use blogging to mean, mostly, “text published online, and available for anyone to read.”

    >It’s a great little community and most people don’t care anyway. It’s great to >share with more people, and to share with fewer people.
    If the journals were open you might have more people caring, because they have access… if more people caring doesn’t matter, then fair enough.

    >3. Does he really think blogs are the only place a professor would get called >out on “bad ideas”? Does he not know about peer reviews, colloquia, >colleagues, anything? There are a lot of checks in the system that are a lot >better than writing a blog entry and having some jerk like him say it’s bad.
    I wonder, actually. The feedback is quick and intense on blog posts that get attention. Since I wrote that first piece, I did a hell of a lot of thinking and discussing with people in the comment sections, and revised my thinking considerably. Jerks like me are easy to ignore in comments, but the vaule comes from the insightful feedback. Blogging comments aren’t necessarily better or worse than the checks you mention, it depends who is making the comments and how valuable they are. That particular point came from reading a few papers with the most bizarre assertions, that I don’t think would ever make it through the blog commenting ringer. Again, better or worse, I don’t know; but blogging comments sure are faster, for whatever that’s worth.

    >Every field has its issues, and I think academia as a whole doesn’t deserve a >pathetic, meaningless, badly written condemnation by a lame douchebag >such as Mr. McGuire.
    Ha! I’ve never been called a lame douchebag, but I’m certainly not condemning academia … just arguing that more of it should happen on the web, in an accessible format.

  5. Hugh McGuire Said,

    December 11, 2008 @ 6:11 pm

    oops. my > technique for showing quotes didn’t work.

  6. Chuck Said,

    December 11, 2008 @ 6:56 pm

    Thanks for stopping by, Hugh, and for engaging with some of these comments. I think your responses are clear enough, although I’m not quite sure what happened on the formatting.

    I do want to test some of the arguments raised here, now that you’ve stopped by. First, I’ve found tremendous value in blogging and the opportunity it has provided for me in terms of engaging with other academics, filmmakers, film journalists, and others who work in the film industry (broadly defined). Those conversations have been indispensable in my own research. Similarly, many of us share the desire for academic writing to have a somewhat more public profile, whether through open-access journals or other formats that allow an engagement with the public (as you observe).

    But I’m also aware that blogging isn’t the only (or necessarily the most immediate) format for getting feedback on ideas. Conversations in the halls with colleagues, conferences, colloquia, and other events can be just as valuable, and many participants will happily call you on “bad” ideas.

    And there may also be value in not exposing ideas immediately to a wider public. I’ve certainly said things here on the blog that I now think are wrong or misguided, and the publicness of the medium carries with it certain risks (to academic reputation or whatever). And like many articles or whatever, blog posts don’t always receive “proper feedback.” I’ve written dozens of entries that received no comments at all, So while I am enthusiastic about blogging, I’d also say that it’s not necessarily reinventing academic dialogue.

  7. Hugh McGuire Said,

    December 11, 2008 @ 7:24 pm

    Well, let’s face it there is still a lot of resistance to blogging in academia, cf G, because it is seen as being for the unwashed masses. My vision would have the main readers of your blog, and main commenters as your colleagues, and the rest of us piping in once in a while.

    But i think blogging out to be seen as sketching out more rigorous positons… so to the extent that it is new ideas you are writing about, it would be a complement to more thorough writing later.

  8. Hugh McGuire Said,

    December 11, 2008 @ 7:24 pm

    “ought to be seen”

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