Daily Routine: Then and Now
posted by Lawrence Cunningham
Intellectuals used to refine ideas in relative solitude before releasing them to the world. Modern technology has led the incubation of ideas to occur publicly, dynamically and in real-time. Is that entirely good or are some ideas better developed in private? Brief reflection on the daily routine offers a window onto the transformation.
A typical Wednesday during the academic year in 2003 for a professor might have begun by reading the printed newspaper delivered to the front door, evaluating stories of interest to one’s class, followed by a trip to the office, a review of a binder of teaching notes, and the live interactive dialogue with students assembled in person. After lunch, reading of printed journal articles and bound books would stimulate production of such output, as well as op-eds, essays, chapters and treatises.
Today, the typical day begins by checking (1) email, including Google alerts, (2) Twitter, (3) Facebook, (4) Linked In, (5) this blog (Concurring Opinions), (6) several bookmarked blogs, (7) blawg search, (8) SSRN and Scholarly Commons, (9) reddit, and (10) the web sites of one or more news organizations. Then professors email students, create and update PowerPoint slides on course web pages or MOOC sites, type Tweets, update Facebook, draft responsive blog posts and download papers to lap tops and books to e-readers.
Eventually, the scholar will still turn ideas generated during a semester’s worth of such daily routines into the old fashioned products, such as books and articles. But the route differs considerably. In the old days, study would be relatively private, with ideas developed reflectively in one’s school, tested against a careful review of a vetted literature, surfaced in substantially mature form via classroom lecture, faculty workshop and conference presentations, refined, submitted, reviewed, edited and published. More speculative ideas might appear, if at all, in footnotes classified as such.
Today, much of the incubating process occurs in real time and in public, with inchoate ideas floated on Twitter and Facebook and then perhaps in blog posts and comments before being turned into op-eds, essays, chapters, articles, books and the rest. It is exciting and interactive and creates a sense of communities engaged in broad pursuit of knowledge. Yet reading some of the unrefined stuff out there raises the question, to paraphrase what Moses Hadas said of a certain book, whether modern technology fills a much-needed gap. Just an idea.