Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Trailmix anybody?

Picture that shows that there are lots of different trail mixes, from fancy to sweet and crunchy
Trail Mixes in Vending Machine flickr photo by Pat Guiney shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

OK, I'm pretty late with this. My day job – workshops to give, roundtables to facilitate, assignments to grade etc. etc. – is running my agenda these days. I am kinda following the readings and listen to all of your blogposts on my one-hour commute, read by ... I think the computer voice's name is Alex. Alex breathes electronically, too, though it sounds occasionally more like a gasp. (If you're interested, I use Instapaper to save articles and strip away most gobbledygook, then create a playlist and have the app read it to me from my iphone. After about 53 minutes, the app crashes and I have some time to listen to cheesy music. Yay!)

I haven't said anything about Vannevar Bush yet. Fun article: There's the geeky "Ooh, look, he envisions the internet. No, it's Wikipedia. No, it's Zotero. No, wait..." part. And then there's the microfilm-nostalgic part. (Hey, have you ever tried to read microcards with your bare eyes?) I enjoyed the connection to made by the #openlearning17 cMOOC creators – nifty tool, and the annotations left by fellow cMOOCistas. And I was pleased by the puns – happy trails and the like. Wondering: did anybody joke with trailmixes? Trailmixtapes? The combinations might open actually meaningful connections – mixtapes as metamusic, just like Bush's annotations and trails and the multidimensional links between texts, tags, notes, and annotators are metatexts.

Two thoughts on those metatexts: First, we have known such things for a while as literature reviews. There you have people combing through sources, picking out relevant bits and pieces, creating connections, structures in a literature. This is how we observe the masters' readings (or the doctors', in many areas, if it's not the graduate assistants who write this stuff*). What's the difference, beyond the technology, which is more clunky and inflexible in the case of the literature reviews and more versatile in the case of a shared database? Honest question. I think part of the answer is the open collaborative possibilities of databases like, whose promises are realized only if enough people participate. (We talked about collective action problems on twitter a while back, no?)

Second thought. Metatexts are texts, too: see literature reviews. Who's gotta read all of this? Bush starts off with the observation that modern science (and lets add other types of scholarship to make it worse) produces increasing amounts of text that is not only too voluminous for any person to read, but also too specialized for persons outside of the specialty to understand. With scholarly trailblazing à la or literature reviews, we create additional text: Is this going to be less specialized, more comprehensible for those who aim to integrate knowledge? And if it is, whose trails are we going to follow – will we get specialized intellectual trail makers? (In that case, why not reading literature reviews?) Will we have our personal fellow trail makers whom we trust, whom we know, with whom we work? Will this create new specializations? Will we create our own new jargon among fellow trailblazers? (We talked about collective action problems on twitter a while back, no?)

*This reminds me of the Great Joke of Great Scholars: in the case of some Harvard law scholar who plagiarized the work of some Yale law scholar and excused it with "my student assistants messed up" or the like, it became clear that the Great Scholars don't actually write the stuff that they don't read. The system is unbroken!

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