Continuing from the discussion regarding intellectual practice, I've been talking with a number of
people (my father in particular) about graduate school and the prospect
of "bootstrapping" a scholarly practice using "new media," like
blogging, and wiki making. I want to explore both my thoughts graduate
school and bootstrapping with new media, and as you'd expect both of
these ideas are rather intertwined. My initial gloss follows:
Bootstrapping for Success
The "new media," even 10 or more years on, is still quite new. The media
shift and technological changes have had a pretty clear impact on
economic and industry practices. At the same time, reading,
participation, and writing are still in flux. People say, "oh look,
blogging and wikis; we can use this as a teaching and learning tool!"
and then there are classes, tools, and software to integrate blogging
into courses and learning management systems, but the media itself is
still in flux and I'm not sure that anyone has blogging and wikis (as
an example) figured out.
While the changes in new media are important, the changes to education
itself is probably more important. Educators of all kinds have begun to
take this we begin to think about the was that traditional education has
changed and will change. Given new media, a changing job market, and the
shifting economics of education it's hard to think that education isn't
I'm not sure it's changing that much.
There are cases of successful auto-didacts, and people who've been able
I'd love to be wrong about this, but I'm pretty sure that the only
people who blog/wiki and have found real success in fields are people
with some other more conventional route to success: people who are
already successful and figure out how to use new media, people who have
conventional training or have achieved success in traditional media and
then moved to using blogs:
Some examples: Cory Doctorow began publishing fiction conventionally
and doing freelance work for Weird magazine, and became a blogger and
used that to multiply existing success. John Scalzi (and Tobias Buckell)
published non-fiction and had successful professional writing careers
before beginning to blog and write and publish fiction. The
Valve is a successful academic
blog/publication/forum, but as near as I can tell all of the
contributors have traditional literary training, and all/most have
academic postings. Bitch, Ph.D.
has/had a formal background.
Samuel Delany doesn't have formal training but has had a scholarly
career, and while his is an inspiring story there's not much that's
reproducible from it given some historical constraints: he started
publishing before the demise of SF pulp magazines and Ace Double,
because creative writing hadn't been established when he entered the
I'm certainly willing to believe that my sample is skewed, and that
people have been able to move in the other direction (from online
success to conventional success, or been able to bootstrap their own
success online,) but I can't think of a single anecdote. I'd love to be
proved wrong here.
Disciplining and Formal Education
I think that working as a technical writer is
something to which I am very suited, something that provides a great
deal of value, gives me access to the kinds of people that I'm
interested in talking with (software developers, admins.) And writing
experience and skill is largely fungible, so the skill I'm honing and
developing is very transferable.
So, while I'm not opposed to doing academic work eventually, I'm pretty
sure that no matter what kind of industry work I end up doing (product
management, community management/organization, training, etc.) I'll sill
basically be a technical writer. And here's the thing, if graduate
school has no effect on my career except dominating my time and earning
potential for a few years? It becomes very difficult to justify.
The equation that keeps going through my head is: two job searches
within a few years years and a hundred thousand dollars or
more, for what amounts to a personal betterment project. It's not
getting any easier to justify.
Here's the catch: I'm a decent writer and I'm getting better all the
time can I write or help people write books, articles, essays, stories,
and a whole host of more specific forms. I'm not really sure that I
could write a quality academic paper without an unreasonable amount of
effort. I don't know the process, I don't know how to start, which
literature to look at for resources, or for models, I'm not sure where
the line between concision and complexity is in academic prose, and so
forth. That's the kind of knowledge that I'm certain I could get out
of graduate education. And perhaps I've been a technical writer for too
long, but I think not being able to "write like a scholar" makes it hard
to participate in scholarly discussions.
The Remains of the Practice
I'm not sure where this leaves me. I'm thinking about seeing if I can
take a seminar and a methods class at CUNY in the next year I might be
able to get what I need. The right collaborative project might be a good
way to build the required skills, but that's even more complicated. As
far as using the blog/wiki to build and participate in a conversation
about new media practices, collaboration, and digital labor practices...
there is much work left to be done.