How To Get a Social Media Ph.D.

A few months ago, I asked how we might reconsider Ph.D. education in light of digital media, social media, and the changing landscape of scholarly publishing.

No matter what your Ph.D. aspirations are, all Ph.D.s are sort-of about publishing and dissemination of research and also reading research, and these activities are being transformed by digital media. I received a many helpful suggestions, and as a result I’d like to offer you a guided tour of my favorites.

I hope this list could be useful as a voyage of exploration for anyone who wants to get a Ph.D. in the social sciences or humanities, broadly defined. It’s also suitable for a professionalization seminar for first-year doctoral students (that’s what I did with it).

The point of this list is not that getting a Ph.D. is totally different now–you’ll notice many of the readings are not new. However, in this list I’ve juxtaposed older advice with much more recent reflection on the state of the academy. Old Ms. Mentor columns are listed near manifestos about the digital humanities, reflections on new scholarly publishing models, cat memes, and Web portals like PhDisabled.

Finally, note also that the point of this list is not where to get a Ph.D. about social media.  It’s: how to get a Ph.D. in any topic within the contemporary context of digital media. That is: your more senior professors probably didn’t exchange information on job wikis, struggle with Homeland Security restrictions, and haven’t installed Typinator, so they’re less likely to give you advice about these things.

 

Preliminaries:

Essential Software and Online Resources:

  • Alerting services:
    • Journal Table of Contents (ToC) alerting services (e.g., JournalTOCs or a publisher-provided service) for a few key journals in your field
    • News summary services (Google Alerts) if your research area includes developments that are likely to be reported on in the mainstream press.
    • If your research area has prominent researchers (or research organizations) with blogs, go click the “Subscribe by E-Mail” button on the blog (or use a service like FeedBurner or Blogtrottr). Some research communities might use a shared Facebook page (or some other platform) for this purpose.
    • Subscribe to e-mail lists that are important in your field. That might include discussion lists, but also announcement lists from entities ranging from your local institution to an international scholarly association. Don’t forget more general professional development lists for all PhD students (and faculty) in any field, like Tomorrow’s Professor
  • Basic scholarly reference sources:
    • Article Indices (yes, okay, Google Scholar, but also know your domain-specific article indices from commercial database providers like EBSCO or from your scholarly association — see your local academic reference librarian)
    • Web of Science Citation Indices (e.g,. the SSCI) — you don’t just need to find references, you also need to be able to perform a reverse-citation lookup to see who is citing a reference you are interested in; this lets you trace ideas and findings through the research literature
    • Scholarly encyclopedias relevant to your field (here’s one for my field)
    • Book review repositories — if your research depends on books, you should know how and where your field publishes book reviews (for older, famous books JSTOR advanced search with “reviews” checked works well)
  • Desktop/personal software:

 

Essential books:

  1. Buy the official style guide for your discipline or sub-discipline. In the humanities and social sciences, probably something like the Publication Manual of the APA, Turabian Style/Chicago Manual of Style, or the MLA Style Manual. Or buy all of them (COMIC: When You Spend Too Long Reading a Style Manual). Although it is not technically a style manual, many academics also find the AP Stylebook helpful because of the treatment of common wording and grammar problems.
  2. William Strunk, Jr. & E. B. White. (2000). The Elements of Style. New York: Longman. (Any edition is fine except for the 1920 or 2011+ “Original Edition” that does not include E. B. White. It must have E. B. White.)

 

The Key 14 Topics:

A Weekly Reading List

“How should I do doctoral research?” is a question where there is no single answer that will apply to everyone. This is a list of 14 weeks of comics, blog posts, papers, contracts, and Web sites that are often quite short, first-person accounts by people advocating a particular position or relating a personal experience. Some are polemical, sarcastic, and intentionally provocative. Some readings obviously disagree with other readings. The list is offered in the hope of generating some knowledge as well as some intellectual frisson, and not because I agree with every particular claim.  I’ve added links when things are available on the Web.

  1. What are We Doing Here? (Norms of the Academy)
    • COMIC: The Illustrated Guide to a PhD
    • READING: Turner, Stephen. “Scientific Norms/Counternorms.” Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology. Ritzer, George (ed). Blackwell Publishing, 2007. Blackwell Reference Online.
    • FOR MORE DEPTH: Weber, M., (1946 [1921]). Science as a Vocation. In: From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology. Trans. H. H. Gerth & C. W. Mills. New York: Oxford University Press. (pp. 129–56)
  2. The Advisor/Advisee Relationship
  3. Professionalization
  4. Impostor Syndrome
    • COMIC: I still have no idea…
    • READING: Risk. In: Becker, Howard S. & Richards, Pamela. (2007). Writing for Social Scientists: How to Start and Finish Your Thesis, Book, or Article. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (excerpt — just the letter in Ch. 6: Risk, pp. 111-120) [Note: Two former students independently told me this letter was one of the most valuable readings they were assigned in their entire Ph.D. career. –Ed.]
  5. Selecting a Research Topic
    • COMIC: The statement of purpose
    • READING: So What? Who Cares? In: Graff, Gerald & Birkenstein, Cathy. (2009). They Say, I Say: The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing. (2nd ed.) New York: W. W. Norton & Company.  (ch. 7)
    • READING: Networking and Your Dissertation In: Agre, Phil. (2005). Networking on the Network: A Guide to Professional Skills for Ph.D. Students. Los Angeles: UCLA.
    • FOR MORE DEPTH: The Thesis Topic, Finding It. In: Peters, Robert L. (20). Getting What You Came For: The Smart Student’s Guide to Earning an M.A. or a Ph.D. (rev. ed.) New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. (ch. 16)
  6. Interdisciplinarity, Multidisciplinarity, and Specialization
    • COMIC: Interdisciplinary
    • READING: On Interdisciplinarity From: Sterne, Jonathan. Super Bon (blog). (note the question: “Is Interdisciplinarity the opposite of ‘bad’?”)
    • READING: Sandvig, C. (2009). How Technical is Technology Research? In: E. Hargittai (ed.), Research Confidential: Solutions to Problems Most Social Scientists Pretend They Never Have, pp. 141-163. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
    • FOR MORE DEPTH: Snow, Charles Percy (2001) [1959]. The Two Cultures. London: Cambridge University Press.
  7. Literature Reviews
    • COMIC: When You Find a New and Interesting Theorist
    • READING: Terrorized by the Literature. In: Becker, Howard S. & Richards, Pamela. (2007). Writing for Social Scientists: How to Start and Finish Your Thesis, Book, or Article. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (Ch. 9)
    • READING: Edwards, Paul N. (2015). How to Read a Book. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan. (Note: This isn’t the Adler & Van Doren book of the same title.)
    • READING: The Difference Between Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Sources. In: Booth, Wayne C., Colomb, Gregory G., & Williams, Joseph M. (2008). The Craft of Research. (3rd ed.) Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (pp. 68-70)
  8. Tone and Voice
    • COMIC: Deciphering Academese
    • READING: Persona and Authority, On “Classier” Writing, “Finished” Products, and Removing “Bullshit” Qualifications. In: Becker, Howard S. & Richards, Pamela. (2007). Writing for Social Scientists: How to Start and Finish Your Thesis, Book, or Article. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (various excerpts.)
    • FOR MORE DEPTH: Peruse: Swales, John M. (2004). Research Genres. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  9. Writing and Rewriting
    • COMIC: “Final.doc”Academic Writing is Argumentative (sorry this comic is paywalled, can’t find link.)
    • READING: Addicted to Rewriting In: Becker, Howard S. & Richards, Pamela. (2007). Writing for Social Scientists: How to Start and Finish Your Thesis, Book, or Article. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (pp. 91-94)
    • READING: Making Prose Speak. In: Germano, William.  From Dissertation to Book. (2nd ed.) Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (ch. 8, excerpts)
    • FOR MORE DEPTH: Re-read Strunk and White (above).
  10. Evidence
    • COMIC: Evidence
    • READING: Which Article Should You Write? Bem, Daryl J. (2002). Writing the Empirical Journal Article. In: Darley, J. M., Zanna, M. P., & Roediger III, H. L. (eds). The Compleat Academic: A Career Guide. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. (excerpt.)
    • READING: Logic In: Becker, Howard S. (1998). Tricks of the Trade: How to Think About Research While You’re Doing It. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (excerpt — pp. 151-158)
    • READING: Making Claims and Assembling Reasons and Evidence In: Booth, Wayne C., Colomb, Gregory G., & Williams, Joseph M. (2008). The Craft of Research. (3rd ed.) Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (ch. 8-9 excerpts)
  11. Difference
    • COMIC: Visas
    • READING: Who’s Classier? From the Ms. Mentor advice column in The Chronicle of Higher Education.
    • READING: Adjusting to American Universities. From the Tomorrow’s Professor listserv.
    • READING: Minority Faculty in [Mainstream White] Academia and Women in Academia In: DeNeef, A. Leigh & Goodwin, Craufurd D. (2007). The Academic’s Handbook. (3rd ed.) Durham, NC: Duke University Press. (ch. 5-6 excerpts)
    • RESOURCE: See also PhDisabled.
  12. Presentations
  13. Publication and Peer Review
  14. The Future

 

Thanks to all who contributed.  More suggestions? Please comment!

 

17 Games that Showcase Gaming

(or, interactive art & entertainment: a short tour)

OK, dear readers, it’s time for some BuzzFeed-style content here on the Social Media Collective.

You want to understand digital media, right? You occasionally like to play a game, right?

I’m pleased to revisit and refresh my list of games that quickly demonstrate what is possible in digital gaming. Sort of: “digital games, a short tour.” With this list, you can inexpensively, briefly play one game every day and at the end of it all you’ve had a broad experience of what digital games can do.

To keep your attention, this blog post is illustrated with a few choice screen shots from games on the list. Like this one:

undertale like LIKE you

Undertale [2015]

The ground rules. Games on the list must be:

  • a computer game
  • easy-to-learn-to-play (Not necessarily “easy.”)
  • free, cheap ($10 or less), or have a meaningful playable demo
  • quick, or at least quick to get into the substance (They need not be “casual” but casual is OK. If there’s a long tutorial before you get to the good stuff, forget it.)
  • more likely to be from obscure, independent producers
  • representing some aspect of gaming so that the complete list captures much of what is possible (The goal is breadth, within the limits of cheap, quick, and easy-to-learn.)
  • the kind of thing that does not require unusual hardware or software (Games that can be played in a browser are ideal. Multi-platform games are great. Games that can be played with an downloaded emulator are OK. Games only playable on the Vectrex will not work.)

 

flow-game-screenshot-6-b

Flow [2006]

I posted the rationale for the above requirements a while back if you’re curious. (I originally made this list as part of my course Play and Technology.)

Note that the games don’t have to be new — in fact classic or influential games are a big plus. Technically I shouldn’t even care if the games are fun; they are supposed to broaden your perspective about what is possible. But don’t worry, these are fun.

Keep in mind that with the above requirements (free! obscure!) you won’t find AAA graphics and celebrity voices. Although some of these games are quite beautiful, there’s definitely less polish than average. Indeed, you could say these contenders tend toward the bizarre. But that’s OK. In the words of Mettaton, “Who needs arms with legs like these?”

But taking this tour is a great way to expand your perspective about digital game genres if you haven’t spent a lot of time with indies. And who doesn’t like a quick browser game? Vin Diesel understands.

vin diesel dnd screenshot

(ASMR) Vin Diesel DMing a Game of D&D Just For You [2015]

I’ll mark games on the list with [*] if they are super-duper quick, so you can jump right in if you want to.

Okay, without further ado, here is the list.

The 17 (Quick, Cheap, Easy-to-Learn) Games that Showcase (the Breadth of Potential in Digital) Gaming:

  1. Undertale. [2015] ($10. This is the RPG where each monster does their best. At first it looks like straight nostalgia, until you realize what is actually going on. Would you kiss a ghost? HECK YEAH.)
  2. TIS-100 [2015] ($7. The puzzler’s puzzler. Motto: “It’s the assembly language programming game you never asked for!” This counts as easy-to-learn because its goal is to be “almost inscrutable,” and it succeeds immediately.)
  3. (ASMR) Vin Diesel DMing a Game of D&D Just For You [2015] (Free. Yes that entire thing is the name. That title really describes it quite well, except that there is no ASMR. It’s a text adventure.) [*]
  4. Passage [2007] (cost: free, format: side-scroller, crying: possibly, difficult to explain: yes) [*]
  5. Thirty Flights of Loving [2013] ($5. Demolitions! Mechanic! Sharpshooter! Confectioner! Anita does it all. Time for a blast of narrative.) [*]
  6. Diner Dash [2004] (Free. The game that took StarCraft casual. Heck it’s the game that took casual casual. It’s real-time resource management. Hurry up, it’s closing time.) [*]
  7. dys4ia [2012] (Free. A game about identity that is also an autobiographical journal.) [*]
  8. Flow [2006/2013] (Free to download or $6 on PSN. Action/arcade, with a twist or two. Play the rebooted version on your biggest available screen.) [*]
  9. Façade [2004] (Free. This game pioneered a new direction in conversational AI. It’s an uncanny cross between an RPG and a chat session. The New York Times said it was “the future of games” in 2004, but Trip told me “you know what? I think you should leave.”)
  10. SissyFight 2000 [2000/2014] (Free. Take the trash-talk out of the CoD lobby and put it where it belongs… in the schoolyard. SissyFight is multiplayer game theory, people. And by “game theory” I mean the John Nash kind.) Oops, it looks like the 2014 Kickstarter reboot doesn’t work. I see a lot of bug reports and no players. 😦
  11. A Series of Gunshots. [2015] (Free. Quite a different take on the shooter.) [*]
  12. Papers, Please [2013] ($10. A morality puzzler/RPG crossover you might actually be able to finish, unlike the other puzzler on this list.)
  13. QWOP [2010] (Free. A paragon of simulation. You’ll scorn those games with a simple “run” button after you get the chance to individually operate each of your hips and knees.) [*]
  14. Candy Box 2 [2013] (Free. It’s time-based click-farming that forges a new relationship to time, and to clicks. Or at least a new relationship to the game developer.)
  15. FTL [2012/2014] ($10 with a great iPad interface. Roguelike. “Please accept these small cakes made from stiff dough.” This is space exploration with character, and a great way to practice dying over and over.)
  16. Habbo Hotel. [2000-present] (Free. It’s a MOO! Sort of. Motto: “A strange place with awesome people. Get noticed!”)
  17. EnviroBear [2000/2010] (Free for PC, $1 for Android/iPhone. No list of games is complete without a driving game. Here’s a driving game where the premise is that you are a one-armed bear trying to drive a car. You may also get to wear a hat.) [*]

But there are so many great games I’ve left off the list! It makes me so mad I almost want to give the “throw baby” command.

throwbaby

Peasant’s Quest [2004]

So here are some Honorable Mentions:

  1. Ultra Business Tycoon III. [2013] (Free. A text adventure that feels like André Breton may have been involved somehow — but I have too many text adventures on the list already.)
  2. Peasant’s Quest. [2004] (Free. This is a fantastic game but it only works if you are already very familiar with the “Quest” series of split-screen adventure games it is parodying.)
  3. Journey. [2013] ($15 Wonderful but just too expensive for our rules. Also too long.)

 

3

A Series of Gunshots (2015)

An acknowledgement: Great suggestions above came from Mia Consalvo, Adrienne Massanari, Alex Pieschel, and Leigh Alexander.

17 is kind of a weird number, and this list is always in revision. What am I missing?

I worry that I’ve given short shrift to arcade games, as only Flow and EnviroBear represent that experience, and they’re far from representative. Likewise, my “shooter” isn’t a real shooter. My “driving game” isn’t a real driving game, etc. To cover the range of what people actually do when they play games, it seems like I should have a game more obviously about chance or gambling. 

I’ve got games about confectioners covered though.

30flightsconfectioner

Thirty Flights of Loving (2013)

Let’s fix this tour. Please post your suggestions, people.

 

my latest syllabus: “Public Intellectuals: Theory and Practice”

Several years ago, I introduced a class at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communications and Journalism which was designed to encourage scholars in training to think more deeply about the public-facing dimensions of their work. I wanted to call the class, “How to Be a Public Intellectual,” but this is a university, so we couldn’t be that direct and practical. After some negotiation, the class became “Public Intellectuals: Theory and Practice.” Click here for my latest draft of the syllabus.

Students were asked to try their hands about a range of genres (the op ed, the blog post, the digital essay, the interview) that went beyond the university press monograph and the peer-reviewed journal; they heard from faculty at USC and elsewhere who were in the trenches, using their research to make a difference in the world; they underwent media training, including time being interviewed inside a radio studio, so they could reflect upon and refine their skills at public communication; and they were encouraged to explore potential career paths which led them beyond the academy, including some time with researchers working in corporate spaces.

So much for the practice. As I am getting ready to teach the class a second time, I’ve beefed up a bit more on the theory side, using the class as a chance to work through with students a range of professional issues (including those surrounding the current economic and institutional status of universities, diversity and privilege, accessability and the conventions of academic writing, the nature of the public sphere in a networked era, the construction and performance of an academic persona, and scholarly autonomy and collaboration. These are core questions which will shape the environment in which these students will be working in the future and how they situate themselves and their research in relation to the changing world around them. 

I was struck the first time I taught this class by the way focusing on becoming a public intellectual fostered an engagement with larger questions about professional ethics. I often go back to the original meaning of the term, Professor, as in to profess, to share what you know with the world. This is not simply a self-branding strategy; this cuts to the heart of our professional obligations. There are more opportunities now for academics to share what they know with the world than ever before, more chances for us to profess and promote our ideas beyond the control of traditional gatekeepers. But doing so requires personal choices and commitments because these alternative forms of scholarship do not necessarily bring you benefits when you come up for tenure and promotion. Blogging or digital scholarship is often not considered as satisfying the old publish and perish mandate. 

I’d love to see universities reassess the value of being a public intellectual, but until they do, we need to know the risks and benefits associated with doing this kind of intervention. What we can do is shaped by our own institutional setting and professional status, but I do know that our world is a better place if our students have the skills and dispositions needed to become a public intellectual when the opportunity to make a difference in the world presents itself.

I also know that all of us — whether in academy, government, the press, or the private sector — have a vested interest in insuring that the best contemporary knowledge and thought gets out of the academic enclosure and into a wider, more citizenly discourse. I am hoping that sharing this syllabus may spark more discussions about what we can do to foster and support public intellectuals.

Click here for the draft syllabus.

2015 Advice for Your 856-Year-Old Ph.D.

(or, What’s New About Getting an Old Degree?)

I’m delighted to be teaching an intro seminar for all the new Ph.D. students in my department’s graduate program. One of my goals is to give these students a place to talk about the environment of graduate school itself. How does getting a Ph.D. work? What do you need to know?

This task has made me reflective. At first I thought I should pass along readings that had been inspirational for me during grad school. That sure didn’t work. Here is the advice I apparently once loved:

Once you have identified some [thesis] topics you are interested in, you can research them rapidly by spending a few hours on the telephone calling up experts in the field and pumping them for information…although it may cost you a few dollars in long-distance bills…  —Getting What You Came For: The Smart Student’s Guide to Earning a Master’s or Ph.D., p. 182

Or:

I wrote the paper with which this book begins on a microcomputer. Though this first experience with one frightened me a little at first, writing soon seemed so much less work that I wondered how I had managed before. —Writing for Social Scientists, p. 151

Or:

Having surveyed the basics…it’s time to consider the role that electronic communication can play. The most important thing is to employ electronic media consciously and deliberately as part of a larger strategy for your career. —Networking on the Network: A Guide to Professional Skills for PhD Students

Or:

Fortunately, these days every legitimate library has a copy machine, and each copy costs about a dime. —How to Write a Thesis, p. 86

The process of getting a Ph.D. is very old. Wikipedia claims the first Ph.D. was awarded in Paris in 1150. I thought Ph.D. advice would be more likely to stand the test of time.

These days you’ll find better dissertation advice on Tumblr. Or at least you’ll find some comic relief from Tumblrs like When in Academia

when someone asks you how the diss is going

(That’s some great tagging.)

The upshot is that it looks like a fair amount of the advice about how to get a Ph.D. has to do with the available communication technology of the time.  Both the stuff that’s in everyday use, and also the scholarly communication infrastructure (which I’ve also blogged about recently).

Has anyone reading this ever attended a conference paper sale? (No, that’s not about buying pre-written term papers.) Or have you ever received an academic journal article “preprint request postcard?” Here’s an image of one:

reprint-request-1

Source: Google Scholar Blog.

So far I’ve come up with a list of things that seem to still be helpful. Caveats: I’m aiming to help the social science and humanities students interested in communication and information. Our first year students won’t be teaching yet, so I am not focusing on teaching with this list.

Hopefully there are some readers who will find this list useful too.

How to Get a Ph.D. — The Draft Reading List

Agre, P. (2002). Networking on the Network: A Guide to Professional Skills for PhD Studentshttp://vlsicad.ucsd.edu/Research/Advice/network.html  I’ll excerpt the following sections:

  • Building a Professional Identity
    • Socializing at Conferences
    • Publication and Credit
    • Recognizing Difference
  • Your Dissertation
  • Academic Language

anonymous. (ed.) (2015). “When in Academia.” http://wheninacademia.tumblr.com/

Becker, H. S. (2007). Writing for Social Scientists. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. — Don’t let the title of this book fool you, it is equally applicable to graduate students in the humanities and professional programs. I’m excerpting the following sections:

  • Freshman English for Graduate Students
  • Persona and Authority
  • Learning to Write as a Professional
  • Risk
  • Terrorized by the Literature

Cham, J. (2013, January 21). “Your Conference Presentation.” (image.) PhD Comics.

Edwards, P. N. (2014). “How to Give an Academic Talk.” http://pne.people.si.umich.edu/PDF/howtotalk.pdf (13 pp.)

Germano, W. (2013) From Dissertation to Book. (2nd ed.) Chicago: University of Chicago Press. — Note: “Passive Is Spoken Here” is a great section heading. I’ll excerpt the chapter:

  • Making Prose Speak

Sterne, J. (2014). How to Peer Review Something You Hate. ICA Newsletter. (2 pp.)

Shore, B. M. (2014). The Graduate Advisor Handbook. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. I’ll excerpt:

  • Mutual Expectations for Research Advising (pp. 143-146)

Strunk, W., Jr. & White, E. B. (2000). The Elements of Style. (4th ed.) New York: Longman. (Important: You must avoid any “Original Edition” or public domain reprint that does not include E. B. White as a co-author. The version without E. B. White is a different book.)

@yourpapersucks (ed.) (2015). “Shit My Reviewers Say.”  http://shitmyreviewerssay.tumblr.com/

…however…

I see that it’s a list woefully lacking in anything like “social media savvy for Ph.D. students” or “How new forms of scholarly communication are changing the dissertation.” I’m sure there are other newish domains I’ve left out, too. What am I missing? Can anyone help me out?  Please add a comment or e-mail me.

Yours in futurity.

.

.

.

(this blog post was cross-posted to Multicast.)

Why Isn’t the Internet a Required Course?

[Note: this is cross-posted from my blog multicast. –CS]

I study the Internet. That’s what I do.

We’re coming up on the Internet’s 42nd birthday.  We just passed the Web’s 20th birthday.  Why is it so hard to teach freshmen about them?

That is, why are so many of our courses about the Internet and digital media non-required electives? Why do we offer certificates and minors in “new media” and “digital media”?  Don’t those mean that a plain-old bachelor’s degree about media means “analog media” and new technologies are optional?

Media-related disciplines were originally founded to encompass, interrogate, and/or support particular technological forms and industries. Increasing professionalization in the press led to my university’s Journalism program in 1902, the rise of television led to the study of “mass” communication and the founding of the first communication research program here at Illinois in 1947, and so on.  The communication department here used to be dedicated to the medium of the human voice (it was the Department of Oration).

Although the media world has never been static, in the last 10 years computing, the Internet, and digital convergence have irrevocably transformed the technological forms and media industries that our system of undergraduate education has taken for granted. Yes, now we have new Internet Institutes, but what about all that older stuff still hanging around?

It’s a Great Career Move to Love Media

This link to real, material objects and systems is exciting. It presents a remarkable opportunity: media themselves, by most definitions of the word, are more popular than ever.

Declines in the use of traditional media forms are being matched and even exceeded by gains in attention made by new media (as video is replaced by gaming, or reading in print is replaced by reading online). It is commonly said that attention is shifting away from television, but the average American still spends around 5 hours per day watching video in some form, they simply use different devices (computers) and formats (YouTube, Facebook).

Indeed, newly vibrant media technologies have emerged and attracted very large and even unprecedented populations of devoted users and new libraries of content (e.g., gaming, smartphones, …). And undergraduate interest in media and communication related majors is increasing.

What is a “Media Job”?

But it’s common knowledge that this opportunity has been accompanied by turmoil in the media industries. As some of our media- and communications-related programs are committed to professional training and relationships with particular industries (Journalism, Cinema Studies, …), the disruption is obviously unprecedented.

This isn’t because the industry has gone away — rather we are still looking toward The Los Angeles Herald-Examiner when we think about a “media company.” We should be looking at Microsoft, Zynga, Twitter, and more.

Even in media-related programs that employ a broadly-based liberal arts approach, substantial topical revision has been important to retain student interest.  And still the pace of change in the world has outstripped the University’s ability to adapt by a large margin (or a larger margin than usual).

So far, we at the university sort of suck at this digital media stuff.

Why are we so Out of Date?

Curriculum reform is — to put it bluntly — a monster.

It is a democratic process grounded in faculty governance and program autonomy. While a new course can be proposed by a faculty member or a doctoral student seeking to pursue their own teaching interests (or, ideally, student interests as well), curriculum reform can be an attempt to motivate changes among faculty who would not otherwise change. Or at least it can be an attempt to get those faculty to agree to new changes.

Some entrenched interests are likely to support any given status quo configuration of curricula, providing a great deal of inertia. Indeed, while curriculum changes may benefit student recruitment, satisfaction, and even learning, the faculty reward structure for curriculum reform is not clear at all, and it can be (in the worst case) a contentious, time-consuming process consisting mostly of meetings and negotiations.

In the best case, curriculum reform is organically motivated as a normal part of faculty professional responsibility and produces a renewed, shared vision that is in accord with educational mission of the discipline. Yet this is rare enough that programs in media and communications at other universities remain the “Department of Radio” when this does not describe them and give degrees in “Film” that do not involve cellulose acetate (film).

So we’re in this situation now:  Media careers are now increasingly information technology-related careers as the Internet and convergence has transformed these industries. Although it is crucial to continue to teach about media in a historically-grounded comparative way, beyond the valuable examples in comparative media history there isn’t much in the curriculum that refers to the present day and is “analog media.”  

Let’s go, “Digital 101.”

Goodbye, “New Media 599.”

This is overdue.

The Oversharer (and Other Social Media Experiments)

What new norms are we evolving via the use of social media?

Way back in 1967 sociologist Harold Garfinkel proposed that the social world was filled with hidden rules for behavior that were so taken for granted it could be very difficult to notice them even if you tried to.  To make this point he famously sent his college students home for spring break with an assignment: He asked them to “spend from fifteen minutes to an hour in their homes imagining that they were boarders and acting out this assumption” (p. 38). In short, they were to be polite to their families and note what happened.

It turns out that people aren’t polite to family.

As family norms were broken the result was often pandemonium.  Unsuspecting family members quickly diagnosed their children as ill… or even insane. Speaking politely to your parents is so unusual that most families took it as cruel mockery, or as a kind of elaborate, unsuccessful joke.  Students found the experience unaccountably stressful, given the apparently innocuous instructions. Garfinkel’s experiment is now widely known as “the lodger” or “the boarder.”  He advocated this technique of de-familiarizing everyday life by challenging some unstated assumption as a way to discover the existence of hidden norms.  He called it “breaching.”

What would Garfinkel’s breaching experiment look like if we designed it to investigate emerging norms in social media?  In the class that I teach at the University of Illinois called Communication Technology and Society we set out to figure this out.  Here is a sampling of some of the breaching experiments we designed and conducted.  (Siddhartha Raja, Matthew Yapchaian, Dawn Nafus, and Ken Anderson contributed to this list.)

I’ll list the experiments here but not the results.  Note that a few of them produced results we did not expect.  Dear Internet: Can you think of any other social media norms to investigate with norm breaching experiments? This is like making your own failbook for the sake of science. All new Garfinkels welcomed.

Social Media Norm Breaching Experiments

  • CHATTY FLICKR MARKUP: Sign up for an account and find users on Flickr (http://www.flickr.com/) that you do not know. Try to start a conversation with them using the “add note” tool and the “add your comment” box to mark an image that they have uploaded. Try varying the kind of image you comment on from those that are very personal (wedding, kids birthdays, etc.) to those that are very impersonal (buildings, landscapes) and see how the reactions vary. Note that you may have to post a lot of notes and comments to get any reaction. You may have to try different and creative strategies to get people to respond to you. Describe the reactions.
  • GCHAT STRANGER. If you have a gmail account already, use gchat to begin chat conversations with people that you don’t know (or don’t know very well). Vary the kinds of things you say to see if you can get them to start a chat conversation with you. Describe what kind of chat message will successfully get a stranger to chat with you on gchat. Remember to be polite and respectful at all times. Note: You may have to try to gchat A LOT before you get someone to respond to you. Do not keep trying the same people if they do not respond.
  • WAY OFF TOPIC. On Facebook or a similar site that has threaded conversation (e.g., status updates with replies), over a period of three days leave a large number of comments that are all completely and obviously off-topic and not relevant to the thread. For this to work, there can be no relation between the reply and the topic at all; just start talking about something else. If you like, address some of them to the wrong person as well. Describe the results.
  • FACEBOOK WALL INQUISITOR. On Facebook, friend five strangers — people you don’t know (maybe friends of friends). Once they accept your friend request, post a public comment to their wall introducing yourself and asking them about themselves. In your posts, do not refer to any friends that you have in common; just talk about yourself and ask them about themselves. Try to get information from them about themselves. (You must start this assignment before Monday for it to work!). Describe the responses.
  • ONLY ONE MEDIUM. Choose one popular communication technology. Only use that technology for 3 days. (e.g. Use Facebook direct messages for ALL communication even when it is obviously inappropriate or impractical.) Describe the reactions.
  • ALWAYS MIX MEDIA. For 3 days, always “mix” media–always respond to a communication using a different medium of communication than the one that was used to contact you. (example: if you get a phone call, let it go to voicemail then SMS them. If you get an email, send a picture to their phone, etc. Respond to your twitter @’s in person.) Describe the reactions.
  • THE OVERSHARER. Pick either an acquaintance you don’t know that well or a parent. In a 24 hour period dramatically increase the amount of information you send this person using a text-based mobile communication technology that you know they can receive (likeIM on your phone, text/SMS, or e-mail on your phone/PDA). For example, you could communicate with them every time you do anything (“hi I am getting on the bus”, “arrived in class,” “class is boring,” “having lunch,” “talking with friend.”) Describe the reactions.
  • LAPTOP ALTRUISM. In a public place, ask to borrow a stranger’s laptop “for a second” to check something and then spend an excessive amount of time using it to do things on Facebook. If you get no reaction or the overall experiment is very short, repeat the experiment with another person.