Digital publishing is unquestionably stretching the boundaries of what most people think about publishing. Many of us are already familiar with eBooks now available conveniently on eReaders and Tablet devices. Media scholar Jay David Bolter was already actively conceiving of such devices in his 1991 book Writing Spaces. But digital publishing extends far beyond the traditional novel. Traditional academic labor is also changing, and with it, what counts toward tenure now can include articles published on sites like Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology and Pedagogy, or Hybrid Pedagogy: A Digital Journal of Learning, Teaching, and Technology. As an intern at Hybrid Pedagogy, I am privileged to witness many of the ongoing conversations concerning the future of digital publishing.
Speed and efficiency are clear benefits of digital publishing. Most scholars are familiar with the lag time that exists with new ideas. I may come up with an innovative idea about cellular phones and language, and then, a year later when my article is published, the phone I was using as my object of study is no longer available on the market. Fortunately, the way that digital publishing is currently headed, we have the ability to push out relevant theories, studies, and tools at a speed comparable to that of the lifespan of a piece of tech. Further, it is possible that we no longer will need to include those cumbersome works cited pages at the ends of papers in the world of digital publishing. A simple hyperlink to an article or an author, as I am doing in this response, can fulfill the same need, and some might argue that hyperlinks create consumption based on collaboration. As long as the article in question is not trapped behind a pay wall, anyone on the internet can get the information they need to best understand a digitally published article, blog, or tweet.
Embedded non-traditional media is another feature of digital publishing. Including original or non-copyrighted photographs are becoming common. Some people are even moving toward embedding gifs or videos. For example, Susan G. Taylor, in promoting vlogging (video blogging) as composition, includes a vlog of her article “Vlogging Composition: Making Content Dynamic.” Videos or photos can be instructional, or can provide an image that an alphabetic description cannot fully describe.
But it’s important to remain critical of the digital publishing environment. I often engage in conversations over issues such as “What do I do with this flood of information?” “How do I judge the credibility of online journals?” and “If nothing is behind a pay wall, how do publications like academic journals pay their employees and contributors?” Not everything digital is wonderful. I try not to be guilty of what Veblen calls ‘technological determinism.’ Further, I disagree with Richard Lanham that “All text is digital in origin.” Many of my innovative ideas happen using only a notebook and a pen, never mind that we no longer limit ‘text’ to the alphabetic. Not everything needs to end up online for it to be relevant or innovative.
Innovation is important, both online and off, but no one can do it alone. We live in a networked world, collaborating sometimes even when we don’t realize it. There will always be someone who knows more, or knows how to do a task more efficiently, or with more style. Code writers don’t do it alone, even if their work-life often looks solitary. No longer are we writers in isolation sitting at a desk waiting for the genius of language to flow through us onto the page. Let’s face it – that’s never been true. In order to innovate, whether it’s embedding non-traditional media into our work, or creating a non-linear piece for audience exploration, we need to collaborate. But we also need to be aware of the limits of the digital.