On writing: assume you’ve won

by Jonathan Sterne on April 22, 2014

I was asked by a colleague who assigned some of my work to say something useful about the writing process for her grad students.  Here’s the request:

my charge is to invite you to jot down in one paragraph any helpful thoughts you can offer about any aspect of the writing process–choosing a topic, figuring out the structure of a paper, strengthening an argument, structuring sentences, revising and fine-tuning, etc.  

It’s kind of impossible not knowing them, but this is my attempt:

The piece of writing advice I’ve found myself giving lately, more than anything else, is: “assume you’ve won.”  So much writing in the humanities and critical social sciences is defensive–making sure an argument is protected from all comers.  I understand that some aspects of both graduate school and journal reviewing lead to this way of doing things.  But it’s not generally fun to read or write and it’s an impossible task.  My teacher John Lie always said “even the best argument is full of holes.”  What is fun is learning how to think differently about an old topic, or learning to think at all about a new one.  That’s why most of us get into being academics in the first place.  Often when we are working through drafting new material we are still figuring out what we think as we are writing it (this is not true for everyone, but for a large portion of authors, including me).  But in revision we get to both commit to a line of reasoning and to building out its implications.  So at that point, I try to write pedagogically and invitationally rather than defensively.  I imagine that my audience is ready to hear what I have to say, now I have to take them through it.  Of course this presupposes that one understands writing is a process, and that revision is where the magic happens.  Revision isn’t really taught much in graduate school, but it should be.

I hope this helps!

PS–this entry was heavily revised (and I am resisting the urge to do more).

…and we’re back!

by Jonathan Sterne on April 19, 2014

I’ve been neglecting the blog for over a year now, but it’s time to dust off the cobwebs and get things started again.  In recent years, I’ve posted more “least bloggable units” directly on my Facebook status.  It seemed I got faster and more satisfying response, but this is a problem for several reasons:

1.  Facebook’s feed continues to get crappier and crappier.

2.  Related to that, there is no guarantee my friends will even see the post.

3.  There’s the whole Facebook is private thing.

The turning point for me was a month or two ago, when I made this post, which should have appeared here, or really pretty much anywhere but Facebook:

After a weekly nag email for which I had to unsubscribe (AGAIN), I just edited my academia.edu profile to read thusly:

I don’t trust academia.edu. Ask yourself if you should. First, they are a for-profit company using an .edu domain. Second, they are not up front about their business model, but have attracted venture capital funding. Now look around at internet businesses. There are two ways companies generate income: user fees, which are unlikely for a social networking site (since that would mess with their network effects), or advertising and the sale of marketing data on the basis of user behaviour. My prediction is that academia.edu will either become overrun with ads (see: your Facebook and Twitter feeds) or they will start selling marketing data based on academics’ behaviour on this site. Either way, the process of knowledge sharing is being monetized by parasitic third parties that have very different commitments and obligations from those of academics. If they didn’t have a good plan, they wouldn’t have attracted VC money.

And yes, I get that “following” is a useful service for people who want to keep up with colleagues’ work coming out, but there’s got to be a better way.

If you are concerned about the predatory behaviours of companies like Elsevier, you should be concerned about academia.edu.

The comment thread featured the (probably) expected range of responses, from “but it’s useful” (true, which is why we should be worried!) to I’m being paranoid (true — I think social media sites need to give us reasons to trust them; if you go the other way “I trust all social media businesses until given reason not to” then yes, I sound paranoid) to this one from Greg Elmer:

Jonathan, could it be worse than Facebook? No, don’t answer that..

Which he meant to be funny, and was funny, but also sealed the deal for me.  I will link to serious comments via Twitter, which should show up on Facebook, but I should be posting stuff here, or elsewhere on freely available sites.

As to alternatives to academia.edu, ssrn.com seems promising, though I need to do more homework.

one reason I was away for so long–I got hacked

by Jonathan Sterne on April 18, 2014

PS –As to the neglect of the blog, that’s a whole other story, but one of the big issues was that my site got hacked some time ago. On the advice of my ISP, I hired sitelock.com to fix it, they made a much bigger mess than they started with, and eventually I had to hire Michael VanDeMar to re-do the work, who charged me considerably less and did the job right. In short, I’d recommend Michael to anyone who needs their site cleaned, and if I ever have that problem again, I’ll go back to him.

Sitelock, on the other hand, I would not recommend under any circumstances for the following reasons: they are very expensive, they do not disclose to you that there is a limit on the number of pages they will scan (and you don’t get to choose which pages), they claim to do a complete clean-up when they do a partial clean-up, they do not answer support emails but they do harass you to renew and pay them more money. They appear to have some deal with my hosting company, ipower, who told me they would stop blocking my site if I had sitelock clean my site. In short, STAY AWAY, it’s a rip-off.

Tap tap tap is this thing on?

by Jonathan Sterne on August 16, 2013

Why declare a hiatus when you can just go on one?  I’ve been thinking a lot about what to do with this space, but come to no conclusions.  The archive is good, so I’d like to keep that up at least.

In the meantime, there’s been some malware trouble.  I’ve cleaned up my mess, and part of that is I’m a little concerned about the old theme I was using, so I’m going with the generic 2013 for now.  Apologies for boring and obvious visual design.

 

Organizing Our (Analog) Library

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Another guest post at ProfHacker on this always-timely topic.  

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And now, an academic paperback for over $1500

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So I went to Amazon to pick up Constance Classen’s The Deepest Sense: A Cultural History of Touch, which I’m looking forward to reading.  This is what I found:   While I’m definitely interested in picking up the book, and while it is clearly eligible for super saver shipping, this is the first over-$1500 academic […]

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Once Again, the Political Economy of Communication People Had It Right

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Yesterday’s New York Times caught up with a story that’s been making the rounds of the internet music circles since Zoe Keating published her finances about a year ago: in many cases, Spotify pays so little they might as well not be paying artists at all.  Sure, artists get fractions of cents in royalties, but very […]

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