Media and messages

(Doubling up on blogging assignments here — this post contains topics relevant to HRCS and ENGL3844.)

As an aspiring science writer with a soft spot for things in the woods that aren’t charismatic megafauna, I’ve really enjoyed reading The Forest Unseen, our most recent book for HRCS. I do, however, wonder why on earth we’ve chosen to read it as a book.

My Writing and Digital Media class has recently focused on the topic of remediation, which refers to representing something produced in an old medium in a new or developing medium. Blogging is a perfect example: it takes standards from traditional printed texts and builds on top of them, incorporating old canons while growing in novel and interesting directions itself.

David Haskell’s excellent blog Ramble contains the same sort of philosophical musings on natural phenomena as his book, with the added benefit of images and hypertext. The multimedia nature of the blogging platform he’s chosen allows him to bring his text to life in ways that would be impossible on printed paper: he can link to previous entries that deal with similar topics, source scientific information, and illustrate his prose with images of the creatures he describes. He’s also able to tag the topics of his posts, and a comment section allows for ongoing discussions with other readers and the author himself.

Who, when given the choice between a printed book and a blog containing  interactive multimedia information (which, by the way, is also free), would choose the book — and why? The fact that this year’s HRCS did choose the book over the blog is somewhat telling, and I’ve got a couple of theories as to why this is the case.

Despite the information in the book and the information in the blog being of equally high caliber, there is the idea that blogging is inherently informal, while a published book is inherently more academic. To be fair, publishing a book means that a certain number of highly qualified people have seen your work and found it to be worth sharing with the public — in many ways, publishers act as gatekeepers of information, particularly in the scientific realm. Even if the information in a blog and a published book are identical, the book will be given greater credit. This is not entirely unfair, but it is not always accurate, either — the quality of a piece of writing is independent from the platform it’s presented on.

The HRC is in the somewhat uncomfortable process of renovating the small group meetings formerly known as CMs, and in an effort to add more academic heft, HRCS has more or less been turned into a reading group where we read “real” books (and hopefully have “real” discussions about them.) In an effort to look as professional and academic as possible, I think we may have missed an easy opportunity to explore a medium that’s quite new to some folks here (we’re required to blog, so why not use a high-quality professional blog as inspiration?) and provides just as much — if not more — of an opportunity for intellectual discussion and engagement as the book we wound up with.

I’ve got some further thoughts on this, but I’ve also got quite a bit of other homework to complete and will duck out for now. Stay tuned — I’ve got the sense that I’ll be mulling this over for a while.


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