Friday, August 12, 2011

Walking the Walk and Tweeting the Talk (Digital Humanities and the New-Old World of the Book)

I recently and ever so gently chided the Jones Library for being not quite up to date in the digital domain (1, 2)—all benevolently and in good fun, of course ("Alles in Güte und Liebe, werter Herr Erbförster, gar nicht böse gemeint!"). It's only appropriate, then, to share some further reflections on the appropriate role of "new" and "social" media in the world of the book, based on my own experience.

Specifically, I would like to speak about Twitter: Is it, as so many acquaintances dismissively say, a faddish and foolish exercise in narcissism—a sort of metaphorical modern mashup of the twentieth-century "pet rock" and vanity license plate—or, as others maintain, a valuable social, intellectual, and marketing tool? As an inveterate tweeter, I of course incline toward the latter view.

We, on the Executive Council of the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing (SHARP), the leading international organization dedicated to the study of all aspects of the history of the book, agreed. Many of us had, by chance, tweeted individually at our last annual conference, in Helsinki in 2010. Buoyed by the results of that experiment, we decided to formalize that endeavor this year in Washington by officially promoting it and rewarding the best practitioners with a prize: in in the form of a book, of course, and in print format (though the National Book Awards finally acknowledged the onset of a new century and a new era by including, for the first time, a digital candidate; for us, the format is not important: it all depends on the content).

George Williams, a member of our governing Board, who co-edits the ProfHacker blog over at the Chronicle of Higher Education, invited several of us to contribute brief observations on our use, experience, and perception of Twitter in the context of a scholarly conference on the history and nature of the book.

Here's the beginning of my contribution:
To tweet or not to tweet? If I do not tweet for myself, who will tweet for me? If I tweet only for myself, what am I? Twitter, as one of my non-SHARP “tweeps” says, is the most misunderstood of social media. To wary outsiders, for whom it represents an exercise in egotism, I gently explain that it all depends on what you are looking for and whom you choose to follow. In the 4 years I’ve been on Twitter, it has become one of my most valuable research and networking tools. Frankly, I am much more interested in what total strangers on Twitter are reading than what my Facebook friends had for lunch or their kids did at the birthday party. . . .
Read the full post here, on the book blog.

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