Welcome guest blogger, Sam Harrelson. I recently shared this article with him about a scholarly journal that is going to begin requiring its authors to post a summary of their research to the online encyclopdia, Wikipedia, an interesting idea, indeed. I then shared with him this response by Jim West, who vehemently disagrees with this new wiki advice. Below is Sam’s well thought out response.
I never thought I would say this, but as I get older, I am rapidly (ironically enough) becoming aware in how much more valuable a “long term” perspective is for the academy (and all things).
Growing up, I could never have dreamed of something like the internet. That’s a lie, actually I could. However, growing up in the Tatooine academic wasteland of Mullins with its pathetic town library and my set of 1988 World Book Encyclopedias, I always wondered how much more I could have learned had I had access to a major library. I was a complete dork. When I heard about the “internet” in the early 90’s, I was immediately taken with the idea of being able to read and share information from anywhere, and be connected to scholars and journals and ideas from anywhere at anytime. When the World Wide Web first launched to the public in 1993, I was there. It was amazing. Still amazes me. Information overload quickly took over my brain. Still does, unfortunately.
However, I’m realizing that as fortunate collections of cooled energy, there is something magical to focusing on ideas rather than personalities. As I learn more and live more, I’m beginning to realize that the nature of the web, and our always-on culture in general, emphasizes personality and personal brand building over ideas or attempts at best describing the state of things. Call me platonic, but I don’t see this as a healthy development of our society. Improving ideas or theories, even through small incremental steps, should be the focus as our lives as scholars, not necessarily worrying about spreading our ideas to people that don’t care through social media.
That’s elitist, but I’m beginning to realize that contributing a few small atomic glimpses of understanding about Dura Europos towards the wider collection of human knowledge is a much more worthy way to spend the time that these cooled pieces of energy which make me up have left together in this state compared to building up a personal brand. All is vanity.
Wikipedia is interesting because it doesn’t necessarily cling to the notions of “social media” that emphasize personality. It’s difficult to tell who is editing articles, etc unless you know how to look up that information. So, I do think that it’s viable on that front. However, the idea of it being a “commons” area where anyone can add in information (even if it will be quickly edited out) without peer review lends the entire platform to better discussing Britney Spear’s latest album rather than the mysteries of human existential phenomenology. Peer review helps to enforce this notion of “long term developments of ideas” over the cult of the personality (which, as a footnote… we are seeing creep into scholarship with the Bart Ehrman, Crossan and Elaine Pagels mentality of publishing for Barnes and Noble rather than publishing for humanity in a timeless nature).
So as much as I enjoy Twitter and blogging and Facebook, etc… I’m beginning to take a real hard look at my own contributions to this culture. Even my Blackberry is a tool of that devil. I’m not going to run and get thee to a nunnery, but I am going to start focusing much more on the long term and platonic nature of ideas in my studies over a silly egotistic notion of personal brand building.
I’m still that little boy in Mullins who wants to know more. Now I just need to realize that knowing more bears the responsibility of having to contribute to the collected wisdom of humanity rather than becoming a star theologian or a web celebrity.
To read more of Sam’s musings check out his blog.