I refuse to use the hashtag, but the bubbling-up of a long-standing conversation about live communications from academic conferences over the last three days has been interesting to read.
While I can’t disagree with Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s pragmatic advice to concede to the wishes of a presenter who doesn’t want to be tweeted or blogged, I also can’t even begin to understand how a scholar could envision an ordinary conference presentation as private or confidential. Almost every problem laid at the doorstep of conference tweeting or blogging was no less an issue twenty years ago. Worried about being “scooped”? Well, we did too back in the late 1980s, with as much or little reason. Worried that a tweet or a blog post reduces and simplifies what you said at a conference session? Well, most of the people who attended your inartful, dull excerpting of a longer chapter or journal article in 1988 misunderstood, misrepresented or truncated what you said; most of the people who saw your poster or listened to your roundtable got the wrong idea. The idea that we live in an era of neoliberal acceleration and superficiality, propelled by online discourse, gives far too much credit to the proposition that back in the day, conference-going academics thoughtfully pondered and deeply read all the work that their colleagues placed before them.
Sure, there have always been exceptions where deep reading and highly focused conversations were the rule, say in small workshops of 10-20 invited contributors, but those meetings still happen, and mostly people don’t tweet from them, because they’re too involved in a constant way in the conversation. Live blogging and tweeting is about turning the passive experience of your average large meeting’s conference panel into an active, thoughtful experience, benefitting both the presenter and the listeners.
Brian Leiter is welcome, at any rate, to convene a dour room full of silently raptured intellects listening to the immortal prose of a fellow scholar. My chief pleasure at such a meeting would be getting kicked out, saved by the tweet.