Burst culture and the academic blog

Sat 09 Jun 2007 04:30 PM

Warren Ellis calls blog-writing burst culture, and he argues that it is no substitute for old school, long form writing. Wil Wheaton complains that immersion in burst culture screws up his ability to write slower-paced prose. Wheaton is talking about narrative writing, but I am curious about this parallel question: Does blog writing lead to differences in the form and style of the philosophy?

Surely blogs themselves tend to be telegraphic. One might therefore suspect that philosophers who write blogs are primed to be more telegraphic when writing papers and books.

My experience is the opposite. Writing a blog post requires me to fill out more of the details than taking notes or scribbling down ideas. I am forced to think through the information that needs to be presented in order for my point to make any sense; in writing notes to myself, I can presume more and write less.

The result is that I sometimes blog ideas in ways that fit nicely into papers. My latest draft builds on posts about scientific significance, although admittedly I had been wrestling with these ideas before. My Wikipedia paper is a clearer case. It began as blog yammerings and would not have been written without them.

Also, blogging helps me unclog my analytic writing. I find that taking morsel sized ideas and setting them as blog posts puts me in the state of mind to write. It's like the little vamp that a jazz band plays when warming up, before launching into a set.

[I lack a segue to the next point, so (in true burst culture fashion) I continue without one.]

There is some debate among academic bloggers about how blogging should count. There are several basic positions. 1. Blogging is research. This suggests that we should devise some way of measuring the impact factor of academic blogs. 2. Blogging is a kind of outreach, making research and results available to a broader audience. 3. Blogging is professional service, like refereeing papers and organizing conferences. 4. Blogging is a hobby and should count for nothing.

Often, these debates are a bit too essentialist. Different answers fit different blogs.

Much of Janet Stemwedel's blogging strikes me as public outreach. It is addresses issues of scientific integrity and has an audience that includes many non-philosophers. (Answer 2.)

The non-political part of Brian Leiter's blogging strikes me as professional service. It provides news and commentary on developments within academic philosophy. (Answer 3.) The political part, which he has muzzled recently, strikes me as activism. (Although not exactly a 'hobby', it is not part of his role as an academic philosopher. So answer 4.)

For my own part: I do other stuff on the web that really is just an irrelevant hobby, but blogging is part of my doing philosophy. Nevertheless, I would not want my blog output to be weighed on the same balance as my published papers. If I let a month go by without a post, I don't want to feel the reigns of the tenure-horse slipping through my fingers.

This is only to consider three philosopher-bloggers. Academics in other disciplines have different blogging potential; it is hard to imagine a chemist's blog that would count as anything like chemistry research. In sum, expecting academic blogs to count all in the same way seems wrong-headed.

[Some nice conclusion belongs here, tying this back to the 'burst culture' thing with which I began.]