Academic, Info Tech

I’m tired of listservs, but I am unfortunately unable to subscribe from many of the ones I belong to. I much prefer blogs, fourms, and wikis, each of which is well suited for different purposes. I’ve been thinking of setting up a Gmail account for all the lists I subscribe to and then dumping all the posts in there where I can search them if I need to, but don’t actually need to read them. Amardeep Singh has been thinking along the same lines:

Why listservs are bad. … Listservs at their best are a little frustrating. Information and arguments come at you in bits and pieces; most of it gets read quickly, when it’s not instantly delected in the interest of reducing Inbox spam and clutter. And at their worst listservs are the worst kind of info-noise.” Blogs and internet forums are much more useful, first because they are pull’ resources — that you only go to by choice. They are also fully public, searchable, and pretty user-friendly. In addition to providing the opportunity to connect with other scholars (professional internet sociality), they are permanent, public resources that potentially benefit all kinds of people. And blog/discussion board comments that can be organized by thread (thematically) are miles above the endless disorganized patter of emails that arrive one by one (chronologically).

Finally, listservs preserve a centralized and overly taxonomic model of academic conversation. They encourage segregation by period as well as discipline. Hyperlinked and search-engine friendly resources, by contrast, are potentially much better at enabling conversations to happen according to elective affinity.

Fortunately, anthropologists are starting to get the idea. The AAA recently set up forums, although it doesn’t look like anyone is actually using them. And the AES has forums as well, and they are also planning to install blogging tools for AES members. None of these things are particularly well implemented so far (AES relies on EZBoard, and the AAA forums are structured in a way that seems to discourage user participation), but I imagine that this will all improve over time.

I also want to wish Amardeep success with his new postcolonial group blog!