Monday, January 28, 2013

Freelancing, Twitter and Veering

Last Friday afternoon, I attended Professor Jeff Cohen’s seminar at the Digital Humanities conference. Jeff began his lecture by pulling up the Twitter feed of the conference itself, with tweets grouped by the hastag #gwdh13. Although EBOV is my first real graduate seminar, and about Medieval and Early Modern Studies to boot, I never thought that Twitter would be utilized in the capacity of a conference, let alone the classroom. I didn't find the constant feed updates as much as distracting, but contributing to the conversation.

Twitter is certainly a medium that can be overwhelming from the beginning. But if you manage to sift through the millions of users, you have the incredible ability to aggregate writers, friends and news sources that are tailored to your most peculiar interests. With Twitter, we have the 21st century version of a highly individualized source of personalized journalism. 

I do a bit of freelance journalism on the side, primarily revolving around music and culture, for a variety of publications both based in DC and elsewhere, including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Houston. In my time doing the freelance hustle Twitter has been crucial to network with other writers and editors. I’ve even pitched using tweets -- which editors love, because it's succinct -- and snagged writing and interview opportunities by simply answering a tweet or composing one myself.

I never realized how similar this notion could be applied to the conference or the classroom. In the same way that I tweet ideas and establish a rapport with writers and editors across the globe, most of whom I’ve never met in person, Twitter can be utilized to globalize the classroom, in a sense. It extends the conversation while establishing a community of bloggers, writers, listeners, and people that have an interest in the subject. Information and opinions have the chance to transcend the local and can be distributed widely and remotely, from either the Jack Morton Auditorium to someone who’s following the state of Digital Humanities all the way from say, Norway. 

What intrigued me about Jeff’s lecture in particular highlighted the dangers that this form of globalized information can cause. He brought up that blogs and Twitter can be complicit in forming micro-communities that can proliferate misogyny, and mentioned that he himself had been a victim of “blog stalking” (so creepy!). Twitter definitely lends itself to create antagonistic communities too, where people can egg each other on in unhealthy ways. 

One example is even within the network of music journalists who constantly bombard everyone’s feed whining about how journalism has already plunged into such an abyss that there’s no point in salvaging it. They victimize themselves or make fun of journalists altogether. Call it my naive youth or restless idealism, but I don’t think this is the case at all. The goal of journalism -- and Twitter, for that matter -- is to establish conversations, where people have the ability to connect about topics that transcend the physical sphere. And for that matter, I’ve unfollowed those naysayers. No matter how the media landscape may continue to shift, I firmly believe that good writing and thoughtful conversations will prevail.

In light of Jeff's Twitter discussion, I couldn’t help but think about our extensive conversations about “veering” in class. Twitter itself is definitely a human veer -- it veers from human interaction, where all you need is a stable Internet connection and an idea under 140 characters. In our desire to become more “connected”, are we ourselves losing our ability to connect with each other face to face? I can't possibly imagine a future where the digital classroom is the only classroom. It certainly supplements classroom discussion, but it's no replacement. When do our online personalities overtake our own personalities -- do we become a product of what we project, or vice versa? 

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