I just wanted to throw out two quick ideas that I didn’t get to say in class because the conversation took another (equally interesting) turn… but I didn’t want to forget them or not be able to share!
1) Re: Passive or Active voice and pronoun use. I wondered if this had to do with any admission to the subjectivity of knowledge. Perhaps in the past, there was a greater value placed on Right answers and Wrong answers as related to Truth. But, as our fields have progressed, I think that the cutting edge of even the hard sciences likely embraces some subjectivity or “gray area” that exists been true and false… particularly as we have come to discover some things we previously held as unquestionable truth have been overturned. And, maybe, by foregrounding the human researchers, we highlight that even with sound methodology we are still beautifully fallible and humbly in awe of the knowledge that we seek… just a thought.
2) We talked a lot about language, and writing, and the perceived rate of change there. One of the points I was thinking is that while we talked about language changing and the way we communicate changing… we forgot to mention that language is how we think. So, as language changes, so too does the way we think and reason. For example, are all the news ticker tapes, Twitter feeds, and short emails actually affecting us in major rewiring kinds of ways? Is it more than just text language showing up in written assignments but rather changing how we fundamentally consume information (can we still do deep dives on novels or process those long journal articles?) To reference a potential analog (true or false… your call)… if we eat fast food at our desks while working every day, do we forget how to appreciate a full course meal with friends?
Just a few things I was thinking as we left…
(copy of my reply from last week)
1. I agree. Also, I wonder if the trend towards first-person academic writing is ALSO the result of the rapidly accelerating media cycle in the late 20th century. It seems like there are dozens of daily reports in the popular media that attempt to summarize a journal article, and many of them fail to summarize the results accurately. When all or most academics report in the first person, it may encourage the news media to attribute sources by name rather than just by institution, or by the academic journal, or (worst of all) as simply “scientists” (as in “today, scientists reported that X causes Y!”)
2. Although I’ve always been inclined to agree with you, I’m not so sure any more. To be sure, overconsumption of bite-sized media has a detrimental effect on our attention span. But the same has been argued before about the telegraph, the telephone, and television. I recently read James Gleick’s The Information and this topic arises a few times. As the telegraph came into common use, for example,
The above anecdote is strikingly similar to the criticisms English teachers have brought against communication by SMS and Twitter! So, you could argue that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
That may satisfy people who are concerned only about politeness, but it doesn’t answer the question of whether we’re degrading our ability to think. To that I would only argue that it’s our responsibility to nurture our minds as best we can, in spite of the distractions posed by the internet et cetera. Those of us who depend on our brains to make a living must actively strive to set aside blocks of time for thinking hard, and consciously eliminate distractions where needed. If we are lazy/passive about this, then I do think our brains will probably suffer. As for myself, I probably use Facebook too much, but have actively resisted signing up for Twitter… so I guess it could be worse :-)