Here I am on ScienceBlogs, thanks to the loose definition of “science” that lets in “information science” and the even looser definition of “information science” that includes whatever it is I do.
And yesterday I found myself wondering whether I had any business being here–although the thought was more along the lines of “Holy cr*p! What’s going on here?” The situation had nothing to do with this blog–and a lot, I think, to do with culture clashes along the lines of that half-century-old notion of the Two Cultures.
The trigger was a cluster of conversations taking place on FriendFeed and in blogs, some of them on this platform. It had to do with the propriety of liveblogging talks during a conference, talks not explicitly labeled as secret or closed. And after reading some of the conversations, I realized that, for all my decades as a systems analyst/programmer, I’m on the “humanities side” of this particular gulf.
The odd thing is that I’m not a big fan of liveblogging as a technique, for a couple of reasons:
- As explored at length in “Speaking and attention: It all depends,” as a speaker, I used to have trouble with the idea of inattention–that, between backchannels, liveblogging, twittering, etc., the people in the audience weren’t really there fully.
- Also as a speaker, I felt–and feel–that liveblogging and twittering tend to force speeches into a bullet-point mode: If a speaker wishes to build to a point using narrative means (“tell a story”), these bits-and-pieces techniques will work against effectiveness.
- As a writer who frequently comments on what others have said, I encountered the dark side of liveblogging and conference reporting in general: Namely, what happens if you disagree with anything that’s reported. (If you’re high-fiving and saying “Wow, so-and-so made a great point,” all is well.) To wit, and particularly if the speaker is in one of the charmed circles, you get hit with some combination of “They never said that,” “You’re taking it out of context” and “That wasn’t what they meant at all.” (“Hit with” is the appropriate phrase.) After a couple of incidents, I came to a decision: I’d treat all conference reports, but specifically liveblogs and twitter streams, as fictional–I might note them, but would never, ever comment on them or believe they necessarily had anything to do with what was actually said (or meant).
But that’s a far cry from saying that liveblogging is either inappropriate or borderline unethical. I might say “I wish you’d listen for five minutes before you start tapping away–and by the way, feel free to leave if I’m not getting through to you,” but I would never say people were wrong to liveblog (or engage in backchannel chatter, which may or may not have anything to do with the actual speech).
The more I followed this particular controversy, the more I realized that “conference” in my context meant something very different than “conference” in the science context, at least as these scientists were using it.
Maybe–maybe–conferences-as-in-science, or at least some of them, can reasonably assume that, although anyone who registers can listen to a speech and, presumably, take notes on it and circulate those notes to friends & colleagues, that doesn’t make the contents of the speech public–that it’s reasonable to tell not only professional journalists but everyone that they shouldn’t reveal what was going on while it’s going on. (Maybe all such conferences should be held in Las Vegas, given the town’s advertising motto.)
But conferences-as-in-librarianship, at least all the ones I’ve ever attended, have had no such assumptions. On the other hand, very few speeches at those conferences involve stunning new discoveries backed by methodologically-sound research and even fewer involve any danger of being “scooped” or losing huge research grants because early information gets out too soon. As for the latter, so far I’ve encountered…well, none. People speak because they want to inform, to share ideas and winning strategies, to advocate, or because they’re On the Circuit and were invited to give Speech X to a new audience. (There are other motives, I’m sure, but sharing and informing are certainly the dominant ones.) People want what they say to reach a wider audience. Some speakers must love liveblogging, particularly those whose speeches lend themselves to the process.
Can we communicate across this gulf? Is it a real gulf, or is it edge cases? People like John D. and Christina P. convince me that the answer to the first question is yes, at least for some of us. The second one? Who knows?
I don’t have a conclusion. There are culture clashes of sorts even within librarianship, to be sure, but most of the time I also see a shared culture, at least among the types of librarians most likely to be involved in the American Library Association. On the other hand, I just wrote (and then deleted) a whole set of internal “culture clashes,” many of them from (some) librarians within one specialty who (always wrongly) either treat other types of libraries/librarians as inferior or assume that all libraries are like their own specialty. And I’m fairly certain that there are many culture clashes within science, even if you leave out the social sciences.
I’ll keep trying to communicate.
Oh, and before you ask, I do at least vaguely understand entropy and the second law of thermodynamics–but thinking about or remembering that law is no more relevant to my everyday life or writing than any Shakespeare play is relevant to the everyday life of a nuclear physicist. On the other hand, when someone proposes a system that operates with 100% efficiency, a vague awareness of the second law does trigger my BS-meter…
A footnote and digression: If you want to get one of us wifty humanities types to pick up on the second law, for Gaia’s sake stay away from the Wikipedia entry! This site, though, ain’t bad: “If the first law of thermodynamics says you can’t win, then the second law of thermodynamics says you can’t even break even.” Followed by much more detail, to be sure.