Twitter has become cemented in the lives of knowledge professionals, including academic social scientists. We don’t really know if this is good or bad, and for what; I’m currently studying this, but that knowledge is a drop in the bucket compared to the scope of the question.
There are some general impressions of Twitter, though, that you gather from being on Twitter. It’s bad, it makes people feel bad, but we all feel obliged to use it for social or professional reasons. Sounds like a collective action problem, one on which institutional actors could intervene.
Another way to pose the question: what is the ideal online platform for social scientists to collaborate, share knowledge and tell jokes? I’m confident it’s not Twitter; Twitter is a for-profit corporation with a goal that is not to design the ideal platform for social scientists. Further, Twitter is constantly changing, in terms of the userbase and the platform itself; even if it were ideal at one point, it won’t stay that way. In general, I think Twitter the platform is getting better, but again, the combination of users and affordances is not optimized for social scientists.
On the other hand, people remember blogs fondly. There’s a degree of elitism here: the internet used to be better when it was less crowded, when it was more exclusively the domain of knowledge workers, geeks and weirdos—people who had some specific reason to use the internet. But academic knowledge production is an elitist enterprise; grad students and PhDs have spent much of our adult lives devoted to acquiring knowledge of a particular subject. Academic journals are explicitly exclusionary in both content and distribution; Twitter is explicitly egalitarian; and I think blogs are a useful middle ground.
One of my major theoretical interests in online communication is in whether demand creates its own supply. This sounds like Econ 101, but the changing technology of the production of media has led to an unfathomable increase in the supply of media, as well as improved the extent to which producers can observe the tastes of their audience. Producers cannot avoid pandering, so the composition of the audience has a much bigger impact on the media that is being produced than it would if supply were either more constrained or demand harder to measure.
This is great if we’re talking about entertainment media. People get to watch exactly what they want. But academic conversations are, at present, too influenced by the tastes of randos on Twitter. Hence the blog.
(To be clear, I’m going to tweet my blog posts; unilateral defection is a poor strategy, and I’ve spent far too much time developing a network on Twitter. The “newsletter blog” model on Substack aims to take broadcasting back to the more private realm of the email inbox, so I’m giving that a try. If it works, I’ll stop tweeting. Probably.)
This blog will host short essays on three topics:
social science methodology (and how it’s changing because of the internet), including my recent focus on meta-science, temporal validity and quantitative description
political communication theory (and how it’s changing because of the internet),
the practice of culture and politics (and how it’s changing because of the internet)
If you’re interested, please subscribe below?
Or you can wait and see if other people on Twitter think each piece is individually worth reading, like we all do and which has redefined the online media industry. I’m probably going to buy likes for all those tweets just to dampen the quality of that signal tho.
(Title from The Hold Steady --- Positive Jam)