Recently I’ve been exploring social media site Pinterest’s potential scholarly uses, including as a medium for publication. I’ve been trying to justify this inquiry by appealing to novelty–scholars could potentially achieve new levels of reach with Pinterest; scholars can argue in new ways on Pinterest. As I’m making these arguments, I’m writing with the full realization that for some audiences, “new” might not be enough to justify inquiry into or use of Pinterest for scholarship.
That’s fair. Just because something is new doesn’t mean it’s worth exploring or that it’s going to be useful or successful (RIP, Betamax). Books and journal articles have been the gold standard of academic publishing for centuries. (Elizabeth Eisenstein details how it all began in The Printing Press as an Agent of Change.)
Books and articles have certain affordances that academics value. They consist primarily of words grouped into sentences grouped into paragraphs grouped into sections (often with varying levels of hierarchy), and they are often long and often require a significant investment of time to read, understand, process, and reflect upon the information contained within.
Now, requiring lots of time to understand an article’s content is not necessarily an affordance of the medium. Some works that could be considered “long” are relatively easy to digest compared to academic literature. I could take an easy shot at Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight, but I’ll just imply it instead. It is, however a function of the affordance of length that allows academics to make complex, sustained arguments that require the investment of time.
And often, due to the complexity of academic subjects, length and time are necessary. But Michael Wesch’s video on Web 2.0 is four and a half minutes long, and fits quite nicely into a pin. And it clearly articulates a strong argument in those four and a half minutes. Its complex and it has reach. It would be foolish not to utilize these media.
Before there’s too much of an uproar, let me be clear what I’m not arguing. I am as entrenched in long-form argumentation as any other scholar. I love words; I love writing. It’s one reason I’m in the academy. I think long-form argumentation is important and necessary and will remain so for a long time. But I don’t think that it is the only way we can do things, and I think that the more ways we have of saying something, the more people that we can reach. And I think that reach, in case you can’t tell, is good.
I’d like to thank Elizabeth Mackey for her help in thinking this question through.