Twitter according to McLuhan

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This week in my “Communication as Social Change” course, we read Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media. Our brief assignment in response was to write a critique of an emerging technology in McLuhanesque fashion. Here’s my take on Twitter, a la McLuhan:

Twitter: Our Lives as an Electronic Process

The latest form of electric communication demolishes the spatial dimension: Twitter.  Twitter, as electric information, decentralizes: you can receive news from all over the world in an instant, a digital telegraph in 140 characters. As such, the Internet and its media extensions – including Twitter – have become the ultimate implosion of information and technology into the global village.  Twitter users are a part of a single consciousness in which technology is a determining factor for social change.

You may think that Twitter is a cold medium: participation is key, with users creating a Twitter feed by typing in information that they want to share with the world, whether it be just textual information, a hyperlink, or a link to a photo they wish to share. In this sense, it takes some people to share information with others, making it a cold medium. On the contrary – Twitter is in fact a hot medium. The majority of tweets are generated from a small community of users, just as television shows have to be created by a small community of actors and producers, while other Twitter users merely follow people and soak up the information provided, passively intaking what’s been given to them, just as the majority of people interacting with television are sitting in their living room watching what’s already been produced. Through Twitter, one website can get its users all the news they need, world news, economy news, celebrity news, along with sales at their favorite stores and the latest pictures of your friend and her cat. Twitter has ended a person’s need to search multiple sites for disparate kinds of information and bundled it into one extremely hot medium. 

Twitter is exactly what I was talking about when I said, “Our private and corporate lives have become information processes just because we have put our central nervous systems outside us in electric technology” (76). Just as electricity ended the distinction between day and night, microblogging in media such as Twitter has ended the distinction between one’s public and one’s private life. It has become the ultimate extension of man – not of a physical limb, but as a verbal and visual extension of one’s self. If the computer is an extension of the mind, then Twitter is an extension of the voice. But what are we hearing with it?

Coleridge penned in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, “Water, water everywhere, / Nor any drop to drink.” We encounter millions of words on Twitter – but where is the actual information? Such a small percentage – some estimate merely 8% – of tweets contain anything with pass-along value. In this way it alters our consciousness and we learn to skim information and not take in every piece of visual and verbal information fully. We are also inundated with messages through the media that Twitter is constructed of. In becoming an electric and highly informative medium, Twitter is the ultimate medium within many other media: photographs, hyperlinks, and alphanumeric text on a microblogging platform on the Internet, within the computer, written in binary code, using alphanumeric symbols. But not everything is important and worth the world knowing.

Works Cited
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. The Literature Network. 2010. Web. Jan. 22, 2011.
McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, critical edition. Ed. W. Terrence Gordon. Corte Madera, CA: Gingko, 2003.

Professional development as a PhD student

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This week I applied for a position in my department as the Graduate Assistant Director of the First Year Writing Program. It’s a great opportunity to pursue my interests in higher education administration, to get some practical experience on the job, and to work with one of the most respected directors in the country. I was so excited when I got the call for applications in my email and started working on it right away.

The call asked for a “letter of interest.” Sitting down to write it, I realized – I’ve never heard of a “letter of interest” before. I’ve certainly never written one. I’ve never attended a workshop on writing them or heard a word about them in any professional development work I’ve done. I’ve heard and seen a lot of information on writing a cover letter and a CV, reading a job call, etc. Because it was an internal call – only PhD students who teach in the program are eligible to apply for the position – I’m assuming that’s why only a letter of interest, and not a complete job application, was necessary. However, if this is a common practice for applying for internal jobs, as a graduate student, I’d certainly welcome some guidance in writing for those.

I worked on some ideas, drafted what I thought I would include to demonstrate my interest in the position, and did what any smart student does – sent it out for peer review! With the help of someone in my cohort, I think I’ve produced a strong letter that demonstrates exactly why I’m not only interested in the job but also highly qualified to take the position.

However, it leaves me wondering if my letter of interest fits the genre. What goes into an internal letter of interest? How common of a practice is that in higher education? For instance, if you’re an associate professor applying to be the director of graduate programs, do you write a letter of interest? Do you complete an application? Or is this the only time in my life I’ll see a job opening that will require (and only require) a letter of interest?

I’m also helping facilitate a series of professional development workshops for PhD students in our program. This reminds me that I need to “think outside of the box” for workshops and ask around for important information that’s not necessarily the standard PD workshop material. Inevitably, there’s always something you haven’t heard of before that you have to work on for your job application that I want to see if we can cover if at all possible. Which reminds me – I’d better start on the first workshop! January has nearly passed us by.

Cheers!

Uncertainty about the academy

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A concise, poignant post the other day sparked a snowballing conversation across the Internet about life as an academic, specifically in the humanities. An excerpt:

Because I am being limited personally, financially, professionally, and creatively…
Because I want to continue to love it…
Because sometimes I consider how my light is spent…
Because there are other places where that training and preparation will be rewarded, respected, and used…
Because I am capable of more than I can do here…
Because leaving the system is a reclamation of the dignity and agency it has attempted to take from me…
I am leaving the academy.

The “doom and gloom” articles about job prospects in the humanities abound (so do the satirical videos about graduate school, too), and now, we’re hearing from someone (albeit anonymously) that she is quitting (yes, I’ll call it that). 

Today, a response to the post piqued my interest: “We Ain’t Got Nothin’ to Lose, Motherf*cker.

The reason “because” had to be written is, well, …
because we have colleagues who would rather beg for scraps than be ethical
because T Th classes are more important to us than pointing out flawed curricula. Because if we do point that out, we might have to teach on Fridays.
because no matter how much we bemoan the loss of tenure, we do so out of self-interest. Because we believe we are owed something for years of grad school and poverty.  Because we are entitled.
because we are afraid of rocking boats when others are begging for our jobs.
 

Quite frankly, this dialogue is downright frightening for a current PhD student. What am I getting into? What kind of job future/security am I going to have? It’s very romantic to think that I’m going to learn for the rest of my life, help others learn, and make the world a better place, but I’ve got to be practical too – I need to make a living. (Allan has a great job, but – I was not raised to rely on men for my living!) So how can “my generation” of academics (ie. those up and coming/just starting out) approach these issues? Should we get used to the idea of tenure falling by the wayside and participate in conversations to develop a new system for promotion/job security that rewards us for hard work and benefits the university at the same time? Can I really live with having “a job” because others do not, even if the conditions are far less than ideal?

At a more personal level, this also has me wondering how to position myself as a scholar in an interdisciplinary PhD program. If more traditional English scholars (literature, composition) have a hard time finding jobs and working within the system of their department, where does this leave an interdisciplinary scholar? In terms of identity: Am I a rhetorical scholar with the ability to also teach communication courses? Am I an English/Communication interdisciplinary scholar? Am I a media scholar that specializes in rhetoric? What will allow me to be more marketable and/or find the right fit of an institution for my career? This is a struggle I see for some of us in this new, up-and-coming CRDM program. I love it – what’s not to love about learning more than one discipline? – but at the same time, I am concerned about the “working conditions” and job potential that lie ahead.

Goals for 2011

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Happy New Year! This is my first post from my new laptop – the Macbook Pro that I’d asked for for Christmas – and to follow the theme that the blogs in my Reader have done this week, I’m writing a “kick-off” post for the new year. I am not one who makes resolutions: instead of constantly trying to do something better, I identify goals that I am working toward. I’ve also read other bloggers who say that a public proclamation of goals motivates them to accomplish what they’ve set out to do.

Without further ado, here’s what I’d like to do academically in 2011 (and how I might do it):

  1. Join the conversation more. Starting to blog and activating a Twitter account were two ways in 2010 that I entered the conversation as an academic, but thus far I don’t think I’ve used either very effectively to dialogue with others in the field. My conversations have been pretty one-sided, so my goal is to begin legitimate conversations with other digital rhetoric and environmental communication scholars online. To start, I will not only continue with my blog, but I will more actively seek out those of others, read, and comment when I have a question or something to say. I’ll keep “listening” on Twitter, but will plan to jump in when I have a question or something to say. In short, I’ll converse less in my corner and more out in the open with others. I’ll need a bit of help with this: the best way to find great blogs, I think, is through others. Please feel free to share your blog or someone else’s that you follow so that I can, too.
     
  2. Go to more conferences. I’ve stuck mostly to regional conferences thus far, quite honestly due to a lack of confidence. I need to get over this and start branching out! So, I’m going to seriously consider the conference calls that come my way and send in abstracts to the larger, national conferences. This is the status quo for academia, so I really need to step it up here if I’m going to cut it in the field (or, that’s at least how graduate school makes it seems. Feel free to correct me here).
  3. Submit an article or two for publication. Originally my goal was to get something published, but that timeline might be too tight. So I’m setting the bar low (ha!) and going with just submission. Is it better to accomplish a lesser feat, but actually cross it off the list, than to aim high and not get there? I guess I’ll see.
  4. Continue to get involved in the CRDM department. I realize that service is an important part of any vitae, but I join committees, help with workshops, and offer leadership for a greater reason: I actually want to be an admin one day. Every aspect of the department and field that I can learn about, I think, can help me in the future as I begin to reach for leadership positions in a departments. I hope this isn’t too much of “putting the cart before the horse” (ie. planning to be a dean before I even get a teaching job!), but I hope that by making connections, I’ll be better prepared to jump into a position that fewer and fewer professors/academics are interested in pursuing.

I really should also include a goal for my teaching, but since I’ve talked about improving my role in the classroom previously, I’ve kept the focus here on my role as a student/academic.

What do you hope to do in 2011?