The Impacts of Digital Media on Perspectives of Academic Authorship

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.


Your claim that sharing our process makes us vulnerable is a good point. Academics often strive to produce perfect drafts and I see your post very much in conversation with Avi's. There's also a bit of anxiety here over the fact that what we produce in online spaces is not our work because of these transparent modes of discourse. I think that getting help, insight, and a good editor has always been part of the process.

I am actually thinking of social issues with these kinds of mediums. In thinking about a text I produced last semester, I was receiving a lot of feedback online about edits to the text. I disagreed with some of those suggestions, obviously didn't use them, and am always a bit nervous that both the product commented on and the finished product live out there online. Whereas if someone had made the comment to me verbally I could have said "Thanks, I'll consider that" and that would be the end of it. Now these processes are becoming more transparent and, well, archived. 

The digital paper trail of what was said to whom is quite daunting.  The vulnerability is magnified, I think, when we know others can see the responses to our work as well.  Hard to lick our wounds when all can see them. 

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