Am I what I say?

Having argued in my previous post that to be active successfully in online fora, you should be media literate, the next obvious question is how do you acquire this literacy?  As a part of my group’s #ONL191 work, we have looked at a variety of practical tips as well as more philosophical points.  As with any environment, you need to know the rules of engagement.  There are a lot of guides out there, for example for “academic Twitter”, or for blogging as an educator.  These sorts of guides are very helpful, although often very platform- or tool-specific.

More generally, this kind of information should be included in journalism training programmes, as we can see from the course structure for a Masters programme at the University of Kent, where the impact of online media is discussed, as well as methods of storytelling.  For the moment, my own exploration of the topic is a bit more limited, so I will concentrate on one particular aspect, that of context collapse.  I came across this term in a set of articles by Bonnie Stewart, in particular one called ‘Collapsed publics‘.  The article is primarily concerned with a case study of several academics with a strong online presence, with a focus on Twitter coming to the fore.  The participants in the study have several common ways of interacting that are considered appropriate, including such facets as sharing (interesting) work by other, as well as invitations for congratulation or commiseration. One thing that comes across clearly is that online credibility belongs to those with charisma and good (digital) social skills; this is not necessarily congruent with expertise.  However, was it not ever thus?

So, what is context collapse?  In the simplest sense, it is the reading of texts by multiple audiences, some (most) of whom are not privy to the intentions and larger surrounding discussion.  Stewart frames this using some very interesting work by Ong on secondary orality (broadcast media culture) and literacy; later, Ong ascribes digital communications as secondary literacy – “textualised verbal exchange registers psychologically as having the temporal immediacy of oral exchange”.  The possibility of immediate response online encourages us to act as if we are in a conversation, but our words are recorded forever.  When we speak in person, we are highly conscious of the immediate environment and power relations, but this is lost online after the immediate discussion has taken place.

So, our intention does not carry through.  Instead, as Lanclos and White have put it, content is king, and this leads to an explicit identification of the person with the content, hence the title of this post.  Am I (only) what I have said/written?  Plainly not; the unreliable narrator is a mainstay of fiction.  The learner or student is also in this position; their ideas are not yet fully formed.  But, to pose a rhetorical question, what else can the reader do?  Stewart concludes that:

the dominance of oral-style interaction as the perceived price of admission may be the key factor in keeping academic Twitter a relatively minimal threat to academia’s structure and tenets, among a professional population deeply conditioned to the internalized, distanced register […]

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