Curating attention (Being a sharing academic pt. II)

My post from the train yesterday on blogging kept me thinking throughout the day. I wanted to discuss some of the responses (which makes up the majority of this post) and quickly clarify a couple of things. My initial post was, I recognise a little bit hypocritical: 1. My blog wouldn’t meet the ‘regular’ criteria I suggested for the list of blogs; and so, 2. I recognise that I am not, by any means, an exemplar of the sharing to which I aspire.

The blogpost led me to solicit some responses via Twitter (to which I’ll return) and I was really pleased to read posts from Jeremy Crampton and Clive Barnett, whose blogs and wider work I regularly read and admire. Likewise, not least because it is cross-posted there, the blog generated a little bit of discussion on Twitter with some interesting comments from Gillian Rose and Murray Lowe:

I very much welcome further comments and responses, so please do feel free to comment, blog elsewhere or tweet 🙂

Nevertheless, I wanted to collect together the conversation (so far) here (and I’ll return to that idea) and draw out two key points and make some comments.

First, in response to my observation about the use of some of the social plug-ins like ‘re-blog’ Jeremy (who does use it) observed

This works very well within the WordPress ecosystem, but have you noticed how infrequently this option comes up on blogs or news stories etc”¦they all have Instagram (never used it) Reddit (ditto) etc but not reblog.

to which I can only agree and add the corollary that, as I touched on in my earlier post, sharing and developing ideas cannot be platform-dependent, as both Jeremy and Gillian noted:

twitter is where things seemed to be shared most effectively

The ethos of sharing I am trying to invoke has to go where the conversations can best be served. As Martin Weller suggests in the piece in The Chronicle to which I linked previously:

A key aspect of the digital revolution is not the direct replacement of one form of scholarly activity with another, but rather the addition of alternatives to existing forms

We might do this across all sorts of media, from Twitter and Facebook, to Instagram and Reddit (as Jeremy suggests) and further to Tumblr, Pinterest, and Storify. The most important thing for me here is that we are convening a conversation at all and that it brings about the opportunity to share, celebrate,  and disagree about topics that matter to us. So, and to clarify, I am arguing that for me it’s not about the nuts-and-bolts of the platform, it’s about the ethos of sharing.

This leads me on to my second point. In his post about the uses of blogging and his own blog, my colleague Clive Barnett makes an interesting case for the necessity to see the activity as both a personal fulfilment; a ploughing of an individual furrow (i.e. the ‘lone wolf’) and a contribution to collective knowledge production. The way in which I agree with this is in terms of another observation Clive makes:

I can see how a blog can serve as a way in which one can curate one’s own on-going thinking.

While I totally agree with both Jeremy’s and Gillian’s points about Twitter being the medium par excellence  for sharing things, the considered thinking through of what is shared, through comments and responses at length, and the bringing together of multiple sources (like in this post) remains better served by blogs. As Clive says (and so have many others), academic sharing is a form of curation.

Curation certainly can be the ‘micro-broadcasting’ and the ‘construction of anonymous publics’ Clive discusses, through tags, categories, hashtags and so on. It can also be the bringing together of interlocutors both on and off the blog. The curation is never solely located on the blog: the blog is instead a signifier, perhaps a place-holder, for the performance of the curation/conversation. If,  as Clive argues, ‘sharing only makes sense if things are separable‘ then the activities of curation are precisely those means of doing the separating (and assembling).

I want to make a final observation about attention, which Clive raises. If this mode of sharing (blogging and using social media) I’ve been stumbling over suggesting is roughly analogous to care of one’s self (Clive’s ‘Me’) in the form of writing[1] then the mechanisms of that writing can both enable and hamper that care. In publicly curating ideas we are soliciting attention and the platforms are not neutral equipment in that solicitation.

To post and share on social media is not only to share with readers but also with those who own/run the platform for the purposes of marketing. Likewise, when and how we ‘pay attention’, as users, is also surveilled in order to serve adverts. Attention then, is commodified (as Patrick Crogan and I highlighted in a 2012 theme issue of Culture Machine).

I whole-heartedly agree that Twitter, in particular, has been brilliantly useful for sharing –like Jeremy I joined in 2009 and it has very much enriched my academic life. Nevertheless, those conversations are only really easily accessible in the moment (which is fine, up to a point) but it is non-trivial to retrieve them from Twitter’s archive (if you want). What you post to Twitter and other social media platforms, as data, is a commodity – and it has a monetary value.

So, as with traditional forms of publication (in the guise of journal articles [behind the paywall] or monographs [in expensive hardcover only editions]) we have to remain mindful about access: who has it, who the gatekeepers are, and how we accordingly curate our forms of sharing. Nonetheless, I strongly believe that such sharing is vital. To misquote Beckett (again): “share again, share better“.


1. And thus a form of hypomnesis (riffing on Jeremy’s allusion to his work on Foucault and hypomnemata) ~ worth reading Stiegler on this, see: this Ars Industrialis vocabulary entry.

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