Archives: conferential

Peer to Peer

I should be doing many other things, but every once in a while, there’s a bundle of ideas in my skull that gathers together and sets up a resonance field, and there’s really nothing for it but to write it out. So this is more suggestive than it would be had I the time to really write through it all.

The piece that clicked it all together for me was Jon Udell’s recent post on networks of first-class peers, which has its roots (I think) in the recent announcement of the demise of Google Reader, the death knell for which happened while I was in Las Vegas at CCCC, our annual conference for all things compositional and rhetoricky. I don’t want to project my own affect onto Jon’s post, but there was a sadness there, a nostalgia for the days when the weblog was the undisputed chief of social media. Jon closes his discussion with a look back:

What some of us learned at the turn of the millenium — about how to use first-class peers called blogs, and how to converse with other first-class peers — gave us a set of understandings that remain critical to the effective and democratic colonization of the virtual realm. It’s unfinished business, and it may never be finished, but don’t let the tech pundits or anyone else convince you it doesn’t matter. It does.

He’s responding in part to the “has Google decided that blogs are dead?” portion of the hullabaloo over Reader here, I think, and also hearkening back to something that I think Kathleen Fitzpatrick was getting at in her discussion about civility a couple of months ago. I’m struck by the difference that Udell is articulating between first-class and second-class peers (although that language is freighted in ways that a more networky “first-degree” and “second-degree” might not be). Services like Twitter and Facebook, the argument might run, allow us to treat our discourse as more disposable, less our own.

This cross-blog conversational mode had an interesting property: You owned your words. Everything you wrote went into your own online space, was bound to your identity, became part of your permanent record. As a result, discourse tended to be more civil than what often transpired in Usenet newsgroups or web forums.

Jon cites Dave Winer’s mantra, “Own your words,” and that resonated for me with Ryan Cordell’s “mea culpa” entry that followed Kathleen’s post, about the ethics of conference tweeting and its effect on community. For me, Ryan’s post is a lovely example of all the best thoughts that “own your words” suggests.

There’s another thread to all this for me, one that comes directly out of some of the discussions at CCCC with respect to textbook publishers, and the role (or control) they have when it comes to our field. Because of the vagaries of the conference process, folks had committed to particulars panels, papers, and topics largely before the big publicity rollout last summer about MOOCs, and as a result, other than at ATTW (whose deadlines are later), there was little formal discussion that I heard about. That’s not to say, however, that there weren’t goings-on. In particular, the spectre of MOOCs haunted (for me at least) the annual focus groups, publisher lunches, etc. I don’t participate in those events, but I’m deeply sympathetic to those who finance their trips to CCCC in part by reviewing textbooks, attending focus groups, and/or eating (let’s not call them “free”) meals provided by the publishers.

It’s hard, though, not to see such “partnerships” as more nefarious, or to imagine that these companies aren’t basically doing preliminary research for their own MOOC experiments, whatever they end up looking like. It’s similarly difficult for me not to see these companies, whose budgets underwrite much of our annual conference, acting in the role of shepherd, as KB expressed it:

The shepherd, qua shepherd, acts for the good of the sheep, to protect them from discomfiture and harm. But he may be ‘identified’ with a project that is raising the sheep for market. (Rhetoric of Motives)

It is not easy to suggest to my colleagues, old and new, that they need to go about owning their words here. That sounds a lot like blaming the sheep for the variously scaled loyalties of the shepherd. It does make me think more carefully, though, about what my role and responsibilities are as a member of the discipline, the community, my department, etc. It’s a deeply complicated set of issues; all I know for sure is that I can’t really see my way out of it at this point.

In each of these scenarios though, I’m conscious of nostalgia in my approach to them, the feeling that “if we knew then” which often accompanies the despair of inevitability for me. If only we’d fought hard to keep the blogosphere going. If only I could be more mindful in my approach to social media. If only we could operate at a disciplinary scale that didn’t require the implicit quid pro quo of the textbook companies.

I wish I had an easy answer for all of this, one that offered more promise than each of us simply needing to think our way forward. That’s what I’ll be doing, just as soon as all those other things are done.

Networked Humanities @ UKentucky (#nhuk), Spring 2013

What follows is a fairly rough approximation of the talk that I gave at the UK Networked Humanities Conference (#nhuk) in February, 2013. I don’t usually script out my talks in quite the level of detail that I have below, but this time out, I struggled to get my thoughts together, and scripting seemed to help. As usually happens with me, though, I went off-script early and often.

Also, I use a lot of slide builds to help pace myself, so I’m not providing a full slide deck here. Instead, I’m inserting slides where they feel necessary, and removing my deck cues from the script itself. I’m also interspersing some comments, based on the performance itself.

I’ll start with the panel proposal that Casey Boyle (@caseyboyle), Brian McNely (@bmcnely) and I put together:

Title: Networks as Infrastructure: Attunement, Altmetrics, Ambience

Panel Abstract:  In his early 2012 discussion of the digital humanities, Stanley Fish examines a number of recent publications in the field, and arrives at the conclusion that DH is not only political but “theological:”

The vision is theological because it promises to liberate us from the confines of the linear, temporal medium in the context of which knowledge is discrete, partial and situated — knowledge at this time and this place experienced by this limited being — and deliver us into a spatial universe where knowledge is everywhere available in a full and immediate presence to which everyone has access as a node or relay in the meaning-producing system.

Fish connects this diagnosis of DH with Robert Coover’s 20-year-old call for the “End of Books,” itself once a clarion call to practitioners and theorists of hypertext. While there is perhaps an implicit promise in some digital humanities work that we will be able to move beyond and/or better our current circumstances, we would argue that Fish’s dismissal of that work is misguided at best. The digital humanities broadly, and this panel more specifically, offers a careful revaluation of our current practices, treating the social, material, and intellectual infrastructures of the academy as objects of inquiry and transformation. Rather than seeing these long-invisible networks as given or as something to be “ended” and transcended, we follow Cathy Davidson’s call to engage with them critically, “to reconsider the most cherished assumptions and structures of [our] discipline[s].”

And here’s my contribution to this panel, titled “The N-Visible College: Trading in our Citations for RTs”

I want to start today by referencing two essays that I published last year. The first is an essay called “Discipline and Publish: Reading and Writing the Scholarly Network.” It appears in a collection edited by Sidney Dobrin called Ecology, Writing Theory and New Media, published by Routledge.

The second essay is a bit shorter, and appeared on my blog in July of last year. “Cs Just Not That Into You” was a response to the acceptance notifications from 4Cs, the annual conference in rhetoric and composition. In the space of roughly 24 hours, this essay received over 500 views, 100 comments on Facebook and my blog, and at least 20 retweets and shares.

Both essays grew out of my interest in the intellectual and organizational infrastructures of disciplines, and what network studies can tell us about those structures, but when it comes to my department and my discipline, only one of these essays really counts. I don’t think I’m revealing any great secrets when I say that only one of them appeared in my annual review form this year.

As folks who were there can attest, I actually scrapped this intro on the fly, since Byron Hawk’s presentation actually referenced “Discipline and Publish.” So instead I went meta, talking about how I was going to open the talk, right up until the point that Byron ruined it for me by citing the very essay I was going to claim would never be cited.

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I find disappointing the fact that more people read and engaged with that blog post than will likely ever read “Discipline and Publish.” Routledge has library-priced the collection at a cool $130, meaning that it won’t be taught in courses, at least not legally. As much as I like the collection, I can hardly recommend it to friends and colleagues at that price. From the perspective of my institution, “Discipline and Publish” was probably my best piece of scholarship last year, but it’s also the one with the least value to me personally and professionally.

This question of relative value is one that has frustrated those of us who work closely in and with new media for years. There has been some progress in the form of organizational statements about the value of technology work, and some of us have pushed at the boundaries of our individual tenure and promotion requirements. But that progress has been slow, not the least reason for which is the patterned isolation that separates our disciplines, our institutions, and our departments. But I’ll get to that in a couple of minutes.

First, I want to offer one more example that raises this question of value. When Derek Mueller (@derekmueller) and I worked on the online archive for College Composition and Communication, one of the things we did was to track the internal citations of that journal. That is, whenever one essay from the journal cited another, we linked them together. So this list represents the 11 most frequently cited essays from CCC spanning roughly a 20-year period, ranked by the number of citations.

Compare that to the list of Braddock Award winners from the same time period. The Braddock Award is the prize for the best essay published in CCC in a given year. As you can see, there is some overlap between the lists, but there are substantial differences as well.

 

Lists of Internal Cites vs Braddock Awards

[beyond my scope today, but it’s interesting to think about how and why an essay might show up on one list and not the other, or on both lists]

For my purposes today, one of the most important differences between these lists is that our institutions are far more likely to recognize the Braddock Award as a sign of value than a handful of citations.

All of this is not to say that one of these lists is better than the other, but rather that we have different measures for value. If we think about this in terms of culture industries, this idea makes complete sense. There’s a substantial difference between the books that win literary prizes and those that top the New York Times bestseller lists. The top grossing movies for a given year don’t usually receive Academy Award nominations. We’re both comfortable and conversant with the different definitions of value that these lists and awards represent.

I had several slides here to slow myself down, with book covers and movie posters to help the contrast below between Best and Most. Copyright violations, every last one of them. So use your imagination. :)

This is horribly overreductive, I know, but I’ve been thinking about these two models of value as Best and Most. And much of our intellectual infrastructure in the humanities is targeted towards the idea of Best:

It operates on the principles of scarcity and selectivity, with the goal of establishing a stable, centralized core of recognizable activity. This model is a particularly strong one for fields in the early stages of disciplinarity–it creates shared values and history, as well as an institutional memory. On top of that, it’s a pretty easy model to implement.

But this model has some weaknesses as well. The larger a field becomes, the harder this model is to maintain. The center becomes conservative, slow to recognize or respond to change, and less and less representative of the majority of its members.

In some ways, what I’m calling Most runs counter to these principles. This model of value is collective rather than selective, focusing on the aggregation of abundance instead of scarcity. This model scales well with the size of a discipline–the more people and texts there, the better the information becomes.

If there’s a weakness to this model, it’s that it requires a lot more infrastructure and information to be productive. And it’s something of a chicken/egg problem: it’s hard to demonstrate the value of this model and to advocate for it without the model already in place.

Over the past couple of years though, we’ve seen a push towards something called altmetrics. Spearheaded by scholars in library and information studies, altmetrics is a term with several different layers. On the one hand, it refers to opening up traditional measures of value for alternative research products, like datasets, visualizations, and the like. On the other, altmetric advocates have also been pushing for measures other than the traditional (and flawed) idea of journal impact factor.

But there’s another layer to this term at well, one that gets at the questions of approved genres and recognizable metrics from a more ecological perspective. That is, altmetrics is only partly about reforming our current system; it’s also encouraging us to rethink the system itself. One of the leading voices in altmetrics, Jason Priem (@jasonpriem), gave a talk at Purdue last year where he talked about something called the Decoupled Journal.

I’m embarrassed to admit that, running out of time, I swiped three of the diagrams from Jason Priem’s slideshow. I’m hoping that the links here serve as sufficient apology. I’d hoped to adapt them to my own purposes and disciplinary circumstances, but I was putting the final movement together on the road, and took the shortcut. I also quoted (and attributed) the line that we’re currently working with the best possible system of scholarly communication given 17th century technology, which got both a chuckle from the room and a fair share of retweets.

Traditional journal system, where each journal is responsible for each stage of the publication process.

This traditional process is a masterpiece of patterned isolation — very little interaction from journal to journal — except when journals are owned by the same corporation. There’s tremendous duplication of effort, and that effort is stretched over a long period of time in the case of most traditional journals.

Thanks to blind peer review, most reviewers are isolated from each other as well, as are the contributors. It isn’t until you reach the top of the pyramid, with the journal editor, that there’s any kind of conversation or cross-pollenation of ideas and research. It’s a top-down model of scholarly communication.

I’m pretty sure I was completely off-script through here. I did remember to emphasize the idea that our current model is a “masterpiece of patterned isolation,” but I’m pretty sure that I forgot to mention at any point that PI is a phrase I’ve pulled from Gerald Graff, who borrows it from Laurence Veysey. Pretty sure I never defined it, either.

What Priem suggests is that we think about the various layers and practices independently of how they’ve traditionally been distributed. Social media in particular have opened up a number of possibilities for engaging with and assessing scholarship; rather than waiting for our journals to adopt these practices, altmetricians would have us begin exploring and applying them ourselves.

Considering that many journals treat promotion and search as somehow accomplished by their subscriber list and a conference booth or two, there’s a great deal of room for innovation. Priem describes this decoupled model as publishing a la carte. He offers an example of a writer who might place an essay in a journal, but choose a number of alternative methods for promoting it, making it findable, having it reviewed, etc.

Cheryl Ball (@s2ceball) called me out in Q&A for being too cavalier about the shift in my talk from the “Decoupled Journal” to DH Now, and she was absolutely right. What I was trying to get at here was the way that DHNow starts from a different set of questions, and thus “couples” the process in a way that accomplishes both “Most” and “Best” without buying in to the traditional model of what a journal should look like. This is also where my script simply turns into talking points.

DH Now

  • Aggregation of tweets, calls for papers, job announcements, and resources
  • Monitor the network for spikes in activity
  • Cross-post and RT the things that folks are paying attention to
  • Added layer of publication: Editors’ Choice
  • EC texts are solicited for the quarterly Journal of Digital Humanities
  • Publication is the final step of a fairly simple, but widely distributed process

Why it’s useful as a model

  • Process produces much closer relationship between the map and the territory – DH Now vs DH 2 years ago
  • Driven by engagement and usefulness to the community rather than obscure standards administered anonymously
  • That engagement occurs much more quickly, and at all stages of the process — publication becomes evidence of engagement rather than a precondition for it

Conclusion

 

Deleted Scenes

You might notice that there’s no reference at all here to my original title. As I was planning the talk, I’d intended to frame it with a three-part movement from invisible college to discipline to what I was calling the “n-visible college” (network-visible), a model of scholarly communication that preserved disciplinary memory but not at the cost of innovation and circulation. My CCCC talk from several years ago (this link is to QT movie of the talk) gestures towards that model, but to my mind Priem’s work in particular gets at it much more concretely.

Also, I didn’t emphasize enough the degree to which our traditional model has as a default the silos or smokestacks that separate us all (journals, disciplines, individuals) from each other. This may be part of my underemphasis on patterned isolation. Our current model keeps us silo’ed by default–to my mind, open access isn’t just a matter of taking down those walls, but in reimagining the system that defaults to silo in the first place. Nate Kreuter (@lawnsports) talked a little bit about this the following day in terms of considering both material and cognitive accessibility. We can make our work open materially, but without an infrastructure that makes it accessible cognitively, we’re not doing as much as we should be.

I spent way too much of my inventional time trying to figure out how to incorporate an essay from Noah Wardrip-Fruin on interface effects. It fit with what I wanted to say, which is that the “interface” of the Braddock essays fails us in that it gives very little sense of the complexity of the field that it represents. Love this line from NWF: “Just as play will unmask a simple process with more complex pretensions, so play with a fascinating system will lack all fascination if the system’s operations are too well hidden from the audience.” My point is that, at a certain disciplinary scale, holding to notions of the “Best” ends up occluding more of our scholarly activity than it reveals. It’s a point I like, but I just couldn’t get there from here. And it may be too intricate for the kind of talk that I give.

Finally, Nathaniel Rivers (@sophist_monster)asked a good question in Q&A that went something like “what happens if you succeed?” In other words, have we really thought through what it would mean if Facebook likes or retweets acquired currency. My answer was that it was less about replacing our current system with a better one than it was about opening the system up to the competing models of value that are currently neglected.

And that’s really all that I can remember. Like I said, this is a fair approximation, although not likely a perfect one. If you’ve read this far, thanks! And thanks to all those who chatted with me before, during, and after.

 

4Cs just not that into you?

Late July is awfully early for CCCC notifications, but the Facebook and the Twitter were all abuzz tonight with news of whether or not our annual conference hit the Like button on our various proposals. Since I ended up doing a blog entry’s worth of writing in people’s FB comments as a result, I thought I’d collect my thoughts here. 4Cs might actually make a good theme for an upcoming Random Access Monday–there was a time when I was pretty shrill about what was wrong with the conference, even when I was in the middle of a long streak of acceptances.

The good news is that I’m no longer quite so shrill about it; the bad news is that the conference hasn’t really gotten any righter in the interim. CCCC ’13 will be the 4th or 5th in a row that I won’t be attending, after a 1992 debut, and a streak of 10 accepts in a row in there. While I didn’t get accepted this year, my record is still pretty solid, but it’s gotten harder and harder for me to get motivated to submit, much less attend. Health precluded me from attending once, and I didn’t submit for a few years after that, although I was a Stage I reviewer a couple of years, and an official proposal coach for a while as well.

I don’t claim to being a historian of the conference, although some of my first experiments with text mining were conducted on 4Cs program abstracts, and I have a broader interest in the structures and processes of disciplinarity. So you should probably take what I say with a grain of salt and understand that my take on this is a fairly anecdotal one. It’s a little amazing to me that I attended my first CCCC more than 20 years ago, and honestly, given my introversion, a little surprising that I’ve been to as many as I have. There was a time, though, when I thought a lot about the conference, and some of my work on networks has as one of its origin stories a paper I delivered in 02 (iirc) about how we misunderstand the conference program.

Anyhow, my take is that a broad range of factors combines to result in a conference that ultimately appeals to certain members of the field and far less so to others, and I find myself in the latter group. When the conference began, and for a long time after that, it represented an oasis for a small, dispersed community, many of whom found themselves the only person in their department interested in the teaching of writing. It was small enough, even as the field grew, to be organized and programmed by a single person, a senior scholar who could reliably make judgments about the quality of proposals across the field. As the field continued to grow, though, in terms of journals, graduate programs, and specializations, certain changes were made to the structure of the conference (multi-stage review, blind review, single submission, topic areas) designed to make the process more manageable. There are other factors that I can’t speak to (the incredible lag time between proposal and conference, e.g.), but they’ve contributed to this as well. There are some ways that the conference is still modeled on the idea that rhetoric and composition is a single, coherent community–the idea of a single chair, a conference theme, etc. There are also still significant portions of the process, to my mind, that presume particular technologies as well.

The conference is finite in the amount of space it can give to presenters, and as the field has grown and the number of proposals has risen, the selectivity of the conference has gone up, not in the conscious sense of “we need to be more selective” but rather the pragmatic sense of “we can’t fit any more sardines into the can.” Having just presented at a conference that spread over four days the number of presentations that appear in a single CCCC concurrent session, I can tell you which I prefer. :) But there’s also been a push in recent years to be more inclusive. First time attendees, whether they receive special treatment or not during the proposal process, are asked to indicate that status as part of their proposals. In the conscious sense, inclusion is a worthy goal; in the pragmatic sense, though, it’s an illusion. If you’re limited in the number of proposals you can accept by practical constraints, then one conference can’t really be more inclusive than another. Unless. Unless inclusion is a value that gets transmitted to the reviewers, who then allow it to guide their decisions, and assume that the broader the possible audience for a proposal, the more appropriate that proposal is for the conference.

The bigger that potential audience gets, the more implicit pressure there is on the reviewers to pass along panels with a broader appeal. If you’re reading a number of proposals on technology, for example, it may make more sense to you as a reviewer to choose those panels that the other 95% of the people at the conference will be able to follow and/or be interested in. And there’s nothing wrong with this per se. Programming a conference of this size means making choices, and I think there’s value in the idealism of believing that every panel should be intellectually accessible to first-year graduate students and full professors alike.

What is sacrificed in such an approach, however, is a certain sense of progress. If you go to the panels in a particular area for a few years in a row, and feel as though the panels at this year’s conference could have easily appeared 5 years ago, that can be a little frustrating. And without continuity among the people who make the decisions about the proposals, there’s no way to control for this. There are certainly always exceptions, but they tend to be few and far between. Again, this is not a bad thing. But it leads to a conference that is more appropriately thought of as an introduction to the field than one for experts in the field. And it wouldn’t be as much of an issue if we didn’t self-present the conference as “selective” in the conscious sense. But we do. And we still treat the Conference Program, to a certain extent, as the “yearbook” or “best of” when it’s not, really. Speaking purely for myself, I can say that the best of my work that I’ve presented at 4Cs tends to be whatever portion of it I can translate to a general disciplinary audience, and yes, sometimes, the less-than-stellar conference themes. When I’ve gone ahead and tried to do what I think of as more “advanced” work, those have been the times when I’ve gotten rejected.

The thing about it is that it’s not something that has be either/or, but the way that we’ve structured it forces that choice. There are implications to rules about single submission, 100% general blind review, with a dash of conference chair latitude. And that’s okay. According to a particular definition of fairness, we have a scrupulously fair process for our conference.

All of which, to be honest, is cool by me. But if you were to ask me what my relationship to CCCC is, I would tell you that it’s a conference where only rarely are there panels that interest me and only rarely am I able to present the work that really energizes me. And as a result, even though I enjoy the time I spend there with my friends, it’s not really a conference that represents me in any meaningful way. Insofar as they can only accept a dwindling percentage of proposals in a given year, I have no issue at all with that. Insofar as we still think of it as the flagship conference in our profession, I think we’re deluding ourselves a bit, though. It caters really well to the field’s newcomers and to the featured session superstars, but as I’m no longer the former, and highly unlikely ever to be the latter, I haven’t spent a lot of time over the past few years regretting the fact that I haven’t been. And I’ve probably spent more time tonight thinking about it than I’m likely to spend over the 8 months leading up to it.

 

The Tweetability Index

wherein I consider the hows, whats, whys of Twitter at academic conferences

I am decidedly pro-Twitter, so I’m not going to spend a lot of time apologizing for it or even necessarily advocating for its use. Though if you push me, I will. I think that Twitter in particular (and FB to a lesser extent) provides an extra social layer of activity for conference goers, much better access for folks who aren’t there, and a crowdsourced guide to the area (making the academic conf less of a non-place a la Augé). And honestly, for those who aren’t interested in using it, there’s no real loss in either direction. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it doesn’t need to be.

RSA is kind of an odd bird in our field, conference-wise, which is part of what’s got me thinking about this:

 

RSA, for those of us on the comp side of things, is the one conference that steadily and selectively publishes conference proceedings. As a result, I think that many people write the “publishable” version of their talks (and subsequently read them aloud), rather than versioning them out. I have to admit, the last thing I have time to do when I’m prepping for a conference is to write a whole separate version. I’m at a place where I simply do the presentation version, without worrying about the published volume. I still have my slides from 2010, for example.

All of this is by way of explaining why I think there are some presentations that are significantly more difficult to tweet than others. And part of that has to do with what I would describe as a “close writing” style: dense, careful, accretive, etc. I like close writing as a term, because I think that it’s possible to write in a specific register for an audience of close readers. And in fact, that’s not an unusual style to find in print. It’s not good or bad; rather, it’s a style tailored to a particular medium and audience. Conference presentations are a different medium, of course, and I won’t rehearse the kajillion people who have critiqued the humanities for their (lack of) expertise when it comes to delivery (“How can you know so much about rhetoric, but not be able to…?!” blah blah blah). In a closely written essay, skipping words or flipping sentences matters. It undermines your credibility, makes your ideas more difficult to follow, and for those of us with serious introversion and/or stage fright, it piles on the anxiety.

And yet. There are advantages to writing for presentation a little differently. One of the things I started doing, even before I finally made my personal shift to speaking from notes rather than reading, was to place an upper limit on the number of words in any sentence. I started paying really close attention to the intricacy and order of my clauses. A lot of closely written essays are like mysteries, whose final payoff doesn’t arrive until the end. But when you listen to such an essay, it’s really hard to hold all the moving pieces in the right places in your head as you’re getting there. You don’t get to go back and read it a second time to make sure you understand. So in writing for listeners (v readers), I started trying to go with a much more pyramid approach–even if it was something as simple as laying out the basic structure of my talk at the beginning, and tossing in a signpost or two. Here’s what I’ll talk about today, here’s where I’m going next, here’s what I’ve told you, etc.

It seems to me that there’s an added challenge when it comes to Twitter. Imagine a talk where the speaker is providing a blockquote from another scholar, and someone in the audience livetweets that the speaker is drawing on Theorist X regarding Topics A, B, and C, and sends it out there. Whereupon our speaker finishes the quote, and then announces that it’s the opposite of what s/he wants to focus on today. That kind of move is innocuous in print; on Twitter, it can misrepresent the speaker’s position, and any number of consequences might flow from that mistake. One of the things I try to be careful about as I’m tweeting is just that sort of issue–I try to be careful to make my tweets genuinely representative of the talk, but also informative for someone who might not be there. It’s tricky stuff, and close writing can make it trickier.

I do think that writing with more signposts is one easy solution, as are shorter sentences, more direct sentence constructions, and less reliance on the epiphany model of print scholarship. In a presentation, the audience is there (barring the occasional rudeness). Instead of worrying about holding something back until the end so they’ll keep reading, it’s important to provide them with some help so that they don’t get lost and stop listening.

This is where the staring at the floor thing doesn’t make lots of sense to me. I think that a closely written essay can be made a lot more accessible to an audience with a slide deck that has nothing in it but words from the presentation itself. I don’t know that folks would want to do the full-on Lessig style presentations, but honestly, even a few slides with outline or section headings and citations (h/t @johnmjones) can provide signposting even if the essay doesn’t. But I’d go one step further, and actually drop in thesis statements onto slides–we already have a model for this in the form of “pull quotes.” I’m a Presentation Zen guy, so I do this already (with big splashy pix), but a deck of 8-10 pull quotes, sized appropriately for tweeting? That’s a matter of 10-15 minutes of copy/pasting from an essay, and all of a sudden, you’ve made your essay easier to follow and much more shareable. And a co-panelist can run the deck from your script, if you don’t want to divide your attention. (You can do something similar with handouts, yes, but then you’ve got to worry about logistics (copying, distribution, last-minute edits, etc.).)

For me, the shareability is a big point. I’ve gotten copies of 5 or 6 presentations (either scripts or vids) over the last few months from people whose work I heard about through conference twitter streams. In a couple of cases, they were from complete strangers at conferences I’ve never attended. On a couple of different occasions at RSA this week, I had people contact me privately to ask someone for a copy of one of the presentations I tweeted–those are connections that simply aren’t going to happen if we have to wait until the published volume comes out (and only then, if a paper is selected).

So I guess, technically, I’m not arguing here that everyone should be using Twitter so much as I’m saying that we should all understand what it entails to present to an audience where Twitter is used. A slightly different point, but worth making, I think. And something I’m thinking about for the talk I’ll be giving in June.

Philadelphia #rsa12

So, the past 3 days were my trip down to Philadelphia to drop in on the biennial Rhetoric Society of America conference. I hadn’t really realized that this was my first conference since the last time I was at RSA (2 yrs ago in Minneapolis), but there you go. I’d really been keeping my health issues a secret for the most part, and there were lots of people at RSA this go-round who hadn’t heard about my surgery last summer. I got my fair share of “you look great!” comments, to which I replied, mostly, “Thanks, but I wouldn’t recommend my weight loss plan.” For those of you who might not have heard (I haven’t been especially public about this), I had my gall bladder removed last August, followed by several procedures to remove some rogue gallstones that were taking up residence in the nooks and crannies of my digestive system. Besides a generally healthier lifestyle, one side effect was that I lost close to 60 pounds, a bit of which has filled back in, but most of which is gone now. Honestly, this is the probably the first conference I’ve felt like I could handle physically, and I only really committed to 1.5 days of it. So far, so good. June will mark another test of my energy levels (along with the added stress of presentation).

So there was all that. I have to be pretty vigilant about my intake, and so I really didn’t avail myself of meal invites and restaurant fare, and that makes me a little sad. I should have planned better. I did visit a raw bar for lunch on Friday, but mostly grazed on light appetizers/salads the rest of the time.

My conference experience was pretty regimented:

A panel: Reid, Rickert, and Hawk on Latour
B panel: took it easy, ran into folks
C panel: Rice, Grant, & Teston (subbing for Nicotra) on delivery
D panel: had a meeting
E panel: Jensen, Rollins, Muckelbauer, & Nealon on “gambling”
F panel: early in the morning
G panel: Leston, Richardson, Brooks, & Collamati on authenticity

Good panels, all. I live-tweeted the sessions, so I don’t really feel compelled to recap them here. In thinking about that process, I did end up (I think) getting swept up into a panel proposal for C&W next year about the relationship between Twitter and academic conferences. I learned that, in addition to the difference between writing to be read vs to be heard, there’s a difference between both/either of those and writing to be tweeted. Certain style papers lent themselves better to the live-tweeting I did–it’s not really a good v bad thing, though, just a difference that I notice as I was reflecting. So I may talk about that at C&W next year if the panel flies.

I also had a chance to spend some time with Laura, who’s recapped our conversation better than I probably could :) It’s interesting to me to have “old friends” in Internet time, which is completely different from academic time or just general life time, but she is one, and I really enjoyed catching up with her.

Honestly, that’s about it. It was a good trip. I didn’t wear myself out, and the drive back zipped by as I thought about the stuff I’m looking to work on over the next few months.

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