Innovating Digital Scholarship and Art

My friends will be writers. They will be scholars and journalists and novelists, and they will write about what is important to them; the places they grew up.

We grew up on the internet.

I am lucky to live and learn in a city where the internet, and other digital expanses, are taken seriously. The Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard—home to the Digital Natives project—brings together cyberscholars from around the world. The Convergence Culture Consortium at MIT examines the future of entertainment and narrative in a digital world. (Incidentally, C3’s Futures of Entertainment conference is coming up this weekend, and was by far the most illuminating conference I attended in 2007.) These centers have helped to aggregate the critical mass of interest in Cambridge necessary to really start thinking about what the digital age will mean for culture, politics, and society.

But the internet is not bound by geography, and my friends are distant, too. A few weeks ago, I got an email from Gaby David, writing from France. She studies cameraphone videos—the intimacy, and the “auto-mediation of our daily lives,” constructed by the filming and sharing of grainy personal videos. She wrote to me after reading through this, the Digital Natives blog, and ever since I’ve been blown away by the depth of research she and her colleagues in Paris are embarking on. (Their collective blog is here.) Gaby and I are living through the internet. We connected through the internet. The internet is, in many ways, the substrate of our parallel—though distant—lives. But digital life is the substrate of Gaby’s research and art, too. And that’s true of so many people I know.

Christina Xu is writing her thesis about the short history of communication in the digital age. Recently, she posted to her blog a paper she wrote last year about her experience as a teenager on a GameFAQ message board. Christina’s research examines a past so recent, it’s almost present. But that’s the reality of the digital age: it’s so young, and we’re so young. For Digital Natives and those barely older, it will be more than an obvious topic for study; it will be impossible to ignore. The curve of digital innovation, the vanguard of digital innovators, will race forward. For now, Digital Natives may be the first to recognize en masse how much there is to see. How urgent it is to keep up, to try to study the future as it unfolds.

Digital innovators, after all, are hardly just the people constructing that future. They are also the scholars, journalists, and novelists who will have to figure out how to study everything that has happened in the almost-present past, and everything that will happen in the fast-approaching future—a future that is already here.

* * *

For further reading in young scholarship on convergence culture and internet & society, two more pieces from among more than I can count:

Lana Swartz on fanfic and noobdom
and
Xiaochang Li on storytelling on Twitter.