Despite all of the collaboration that occurs in academia, there is still the tendency to veer towards the cultural illusion of the singular author feverishly creating in isolation and the notion that individual ideas belong to individual creators. While we understand theories like Harold Bloom’s “Anxiety of Influence” and similar concepts that suggest we are not creating in isolation, but are influenced by the ideas of our predecessors or cohorts, it can still be difficult to overcome when we are placing ourselves in a dynamic, online environment.
We have thrived in academia for centuries with the concept of one individual writing the article, revising, editing, sending out to a publication or conference and waiting in anticipation for an answer. This cultural phenomenon is quickly becoming obsolete as we enter the digital media age where there is more opportunity for scholars from different disciplines and different geographic locations, who would have otherwise never met, to collaborate in cyberspace.
While this presents opportunities for expansion of concepts and theories through tools like videos, chatting, blogging, social media outlets, and online publications, it can still feel threatening to be exposed in such a raw way. Once a piece of work is published online, it is more easily accessible in a potentially unpolished form to colleagues, current or future employers, and even our students. As invested as well all are in the endeavor of writing in the academic community, making our work public knowledge in the stages of processing and production is something that feels odd for those of us used to composing in an individual setting then presenting a finalized product.
This brings me back to the notion of the individual author working feverishly in isolation. Despite our use of online tools like video chats, peer reviewing, and blogging there is still a cultural belief that we are our own individual author creating ideas independent of other scholars. This folds into the notion that these ideas should be legally protected against plagiarism and appropriation and intellectual property laws have been put in place to control potential concerns; however, digital sharing exposes this ideology as potentially flawed and turns it on its head, as we get a blog post response from a colleague questioning our ideas or an online peer review adding onto the thoughts from a budding conference piece. It is not likely to end in the legal arena for most of us in academia, but there are concerns over the influences on our professional work and how this impacts our definition of authorship. While collaboration in the digital environment is intended to enhance the process of research and writing, there is also a vulnerability that is not as easily visible when a scholar creates in perceived isolation.