Tweet Away

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.

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9 Responses to Tweet Away

  1. Rohan Maitzen says:

    I saw Leiter’s post and thought surely he was being ironic. But then I dug up this previous post which does suggest he could indeed be serious:

  2. Yeah, I’m afraid he’s quite serious on this sort of point–repeatedly so.

    In his clarification, he says, “It’s because philosophy can’t be tweeted.” Unlike, of course, other disciplines which are sufficiently stupid, I would guess.

    As a non-philosopher, I suppose I do not fully understand how the DEEP THINKING that happens when a philosopher reads a paper at the major professional meetings is so fundamentally incommunicable that only another act of lengthy DEEP THINKING could possibly remark upon it.

    I especially do not understand how this is compatible with having a blog about philosophy that communicates in posts that are not full philosophical papers about matters of concern to philosophers. But I’m sure I don’t understand this because I am not a philosopher. If I were, I would!

  3. Rohan Maitzen says:

    Yeah, well, his clarification makes no particular sense to me either. When someone tweets about a presentation or paper in any field, they are going to do it a bit at a time. It becomes ‘extended’ only across the series. Philosophical arguments are often, in fact, made up of highly specific discrete steps (my husband’s an analytic philosopher, so I’ve proofread more than my share of philosophy papers) so there’s no reason at all why they could not be shared via Twitter as well if not better than papers in other disciplines. Really this seems like just another example of someone who doesn’t use (or hasn’t figure out how to use) a particular tool making assumptions about how it works — or, in his case, how it doesn’t work.

  4. j. says:

    tim, you don’t not understand nothing. (ha!)

    it’s just the same old preening professional academic prejudice. leiter’s papers are just the kinds of papers you’ve heard anywhere. ‘here’s a thing. here are some views. they are wrong. here’s my view.’ they don’t require great feats of understanding, they’re just designed for a format in which an author literally reads out a paper to a docile audience in a setting in which the professional ethos would have everyone involved try to completely undermine the author’s reasoning by asking him questions after a five to ten minute break period, and any form of response which is not more or less effective toward that goal – for example, because it does not restrict itself to pointing out flaws in the author’s reasoning or removing support for any of his assertions – is ruled out of bounds as either inadmissible or as a failure to appreciate the norms by which serious philosophers conduct themselves.

    also, the rhetorical ethos of leiter’s blog is different from that of his professional papers. he vents and opines and sneers in various ways which he seems not to take that seriously, although he will occasionally intermix lower-tier professional work in with it (so, running polls about professional controversies, reforms to practices, etc.), where he does actually seem to be serious. the non-serious posts are offered under the aspect of ‘humor’, although he’s rarely as humorous as he seems to think. in the same way the ‘critique’ you get in things like this does not seem to me to be especially incisive.

  5. Western Dave says:

    I just don’t get Leiter’s position at all. And the neoliberal thing? Clearly someone is having prelapsarian visions of academia. I started using Twitter in earnest at American Society of Environmental History in Madison last March. I presented in the first session and somebody tweeted it, it showed up in my feed. It made my conference much more productive, I met a bunch of cool people I wouldn’t have otherwise met, and I still have my notes (along with lots of other people’s) because the organizers archived everything that used the conference hashtag. In general, a much better experience than my 90s and 2000 era conferences.

  6. Presumably Leiter is equally opposed to quotations, which must similarly mutilate an argument by excerpting it into a smaller chunk. And don’t get him started on paraphrasing…

  7. Johnson says:

    philosophically speaking, he sounds like a ****

  8. Timothy Burke says:

    I don’t typically moderate comments, but please let’s not have any more of that.

  9. bill benzon says:

    It’s well known that the sound of philosophers tweeting is exactly like that of angels dancing on the heads of pins. THAT’s why Leiter disapproves. The tweets mess up his count.

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