« Standing in the ACA case | Main | A different take on the purpose of the Infield Fly Rule »

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

CoOp and Prawfs, Blogging and Twitter

Adding to Howard's post, I was sorry to hear of the announced demise of Concurring Opinions. Given its history, it's hard to read the news without thinking of our departed friend Dan, who I'm sure would have been sorry too and have had something more useful and eloquent to say about it than I do. (I also suspect, however, to foreshadow the subject of this post, that Dan would certainly have spent time on Twitter.) 

One of the things that kept CoOp going toward the end, as the commenters there noted appreciatively, was all the hard work of Gerard Magliocca. In that spirit, I should note on this, the first occasion on which I have blogged in months, that everyone at Prawfs is hugely indebted to Howard Wasserman, our de facto senior partner, who continues to blog with frequency and energy and bears a disproportionate amount of the burden of administrative work as well as providing content. My thanks are accompanied by a mea culpa and a vow that I will post reasonably regularly during the spring semester--not good news for anyone in particular, to be sure, but certainly a token of gratitude to Howard and a recognition of my obligation to him and the blog (and to Dan).

Howard has also been responsible for bringing on board many of our guests, and to them and to him again we are grateful. One of the characteristics of Prawfs has always been that it is in part about being a law professor, and especially, in its early days, about being a young or junior law professor. I loathe the term "pre-tenured," which is indicative of problems with the tenure system and of excessive politeness and its effects on the English language, and prefer the old-fashioned "untenured." That is what most of us here were in the early days of Prawfs, and our excitement about this ridiculously fun and rewarding job and the need to discover things about it as we went contributed to our writing about these things. (In my case, there was the added view that every activity, including law and legal teaching, is as much a sociological, institutional, and economic as an intellectual endeavor and should always be examined in that light, from both an internal and an external perspective.) Years ago, I was reminded recently, I joked that eventually our discussions of law teaching would turn into posts about, say, lumbago and law teaching. Given that we are now more senior, our guests keep us fresh and remind us of the questions that occur to all of us as we start out in teaching. I hope those questions extend beyond placement angst and gossip about when journals are taking submissions and the like, and include teaching especially. I'm grateful to our continuing flow of guests both for their writing on particular serious topics and for reminding us of our pre-"get off my lawn" experiences as teachers and scholars, and to Howard for bringing them on board. People who are interested in spending a few weeks here, to discuss a particular project, legal question, or aspect of life as a law professor, are welcome to contact Howard or any of the rest of us. So are folks who used to belong to now-moribund blogs and would like to have the chance to still blog occasionally.

Howard's post and the interesting comments there discuss some reasons for CoOp's demise and general changes in legal blogging, including what Howard calls "the broader migration of this sort of legal writing to Twitter and Facebook." I would amend that to just Twitter, since I think people are using Facebook less. Although some questions were raised about Howard's statement, I think he's right. Indeed, although I hate Twitter, I post on it more than I do on the blog these days. Since I don't care much about having a "social impact" or something of the sort and would rather not have a large readership on Twitter--it seems to me more often to have a negative than a positive influence on those who do--the fact that I write more there certainly doesn't have to do with a desire for influence. And my overlong writing is perfectly ill-suited for Twitter. So why Twitter rather than the blog, both on my part and for legal writers using social media in general? A few thoughts follow.

First, as Howard notes, some blogs are still very active and some of those seem still to be widely read, although it may be that blogs like Take Care (which I don't read) and the people who write there have more influence through Twitter than directly through the blog. And a couple blogs are still mainstays. The legal academy and people interested in new legal scholarship still benefit immensely from Larry Solum's Legal Theory Blog in particular. (One aspect of that blog that is noticed less often but is more necessary these days is its weekly book recommendation, which is vital in an age in which there are more books by law professors but fewer notices and reviews in law journals. The St. John's Law and Religion Forum is also great on this and quite catholic in its book recommendations.) But it does seem to be the case that bloggers are less active and blogs are read less routinely. 

Some of this comes down to exhaustion and other such factors. I wrote about this and other influences on long-term blogging in a post some time ago. I won't repeat all I wrote there. I will note a couple of things, though. The bloggers who remain most active and can keep it up over years are often those who have a particular topic they are moved to write about, either something directly in their field or a personal hobby-horse or both. Generalists find it harder to keep it up long term; and although we all have our hobby-horses, some of us don't want to ride them too often and repetitively. There is still good reason to read and write specialist blogs, and it's harder to dig deeply into those issues as easily on Twitter, even if the blog post becomes more of an occasion for linking and then talking about it on Twitter. Those who aggregate, like Larry (although he clearly puts work into reading as well as aggregating pieces), and those who have a particular topic or hobby-horse that is an ongoing passion, will find it easier to keep going over the long haul and may find that not all of their needs are satisfied on Twitter. For those of us who, as I said in the earlier blog post, also want to write about the positive aspects of the first two Star Trek reboot movies and the dreadful nature of the third, or about (this semester's amateur fascinations for me) jazz, jazz history, jazz drumming, the great Steven Wilson, Epictetus and esoterica and Confucius, it's easier to do so on media like Facebook (or Twitter, although my sense is that for the writers I'm thinking about this happens less often there, to my regret, because people are still thinking about something like their "brand" and also because wider audiences and the culture of the medium may make one-off twits, especially jokes, more perilous on Twitter; I save most of my humor, which is not perfectly safe or reverent, for Facebook, where my "friends" are used to my sense of humor and tend both to enjoy and to understand and discount it, and even there I occasionally trim my list of "friends" with that in mind).   

Some writers no doubt want to have "influence," and specifically influence in what we might call the political world rather than the academic world. If that is one's goal, it's understandable that one would spend more time on Twitter. Some of those writers are honest brokers and gain reputations for being reliable and fair. Others, it seems to me, have large numbers of followers despite the fact that--or, really, because--they are highly partial, partisan, and sometimes overly emotional writers on Twitter. They satisfy some general readers' need for solidarity and to have their priors reinforced and ready-made arguments for their cause supplied. In some or many cases, general readers may believe that because these arguments come from academics or experts, they are reliable and authoritative, although others in the field might suggest otherwise. This is not the place--I mean, who wants to read a long blog post?--to discuss arguments about academics' professional or ethical duties on Twitter, if any such duties exist. I think they do. But in any event, one can always rest on the notion that there are irreducible moral or ethical obligations on everyone's part, and perhaps especially on the part of "experts," that attach to everything they do and certainly to their public and political statements and interactions, whether we think of them as having anything to do with academic ethics or not. If one seeks influence by trading on authority, if it's not a fair and honest trade it can reasonably be seen as questionable behavior. For those who value integrity and care above propaganda or sophistry, nothing trumps one's fundamental moral and ethical obligations of honesty, fairness, candor, nuance, and so on. I feel sure that given today's coin of the realm, Richard Rich would have found a way to get a blue checkmark on Twitter, and that one could have raised the same questions about this that Thomas More asked about Rich's being made Attorney General for Wales. For myself, I worry that I have too many followers on Twitter as it is, although gaining a large number is never going to be an actual problem for me. 

For me, at least, the reason I am more likely to post something on Twitter than on the blog is a somewhat perilous combination of ease and immediacy. The Twitter platform makes it easier to write something quickly and put it up instantly. Even a multi-twit post, which most of mine are, is easier to knock out from one's phone while walking the dog. I don't write blog posts on my phone, so I need to pull out a laptop or sit at my desk to write a blog post. The Typepad platform is perfectly friendly, and no doubt so is its app, but to write a blog post that is not a simple one-sentence link ("Interesting." "Highly recommended." "Hmm." "Problematic!") takes at least a little time and effort. And for those of us who favor an endless number of caveats and nuances and a parade of commas, dashes, parentheses, and semicolons, it takes still more time. Twitter feels easier, more immediate, and less consequential--although, as many have learned, in our polarized, combative, and punitive culture the last is certainly untrue. The very fact that you are reacting (it is indeed frequently a reaction) to the news of the day makes it easier to feel that little turns on your tweet, that it's a grain of sand on the beach, and that you need not (and cannot, given character limits) say much and can always post again, or simply let your earlier twit fade into obscurity, when it turns out that the story was more complicated than the first take suggested.

One might say something similar about reading it. Although I have an aversion to Twitter, I find it easy and addictive to turn to when walking the dog, even when I bring a book along, as I generally do, and even though I generally only read the Twitter pages of 3-5 people rather than plunging through the entire swamp. My spending more time there as a writer than I do on the blog, and spending some time there as a reader (although I spend time on my diminished number of go-to blogs), thus has less to do with the fact that the conversation has "migrated" there or the amount of content there, although those are contributing factors, and more to do with the ease of access and its suitability to short-term reading and reaction. And I might add something about emotion and about the outrageous story or anecdote of the day (or hour). Whatever your predilections and prejudices, you can more quickly and easily find some item there--fourth-place candidate in obscure local primary race says horrible thing, single unimportant professor at unknown university speaks outrageously or is treated outrageously, major gas planet loses rings, president of large and powerful country animadverts excitedly or boasts idiotically, etc.--to pique your interest and stoke your outrage. Since blogs are generally more selective and less immediate and emotional, you'll find fewer such links there. Twitter is a much better place to excite one's feelings that the world has collapsed, that you are losing your side of the culture war, or whatever else gives you a form of immediate pleasure or sensation.

Despite all this there are, of course, useful aspects to Twitter and useful writers or threads there. Many of them, in fact, although unless one is highly selective and resists the baked-in addictive qualities of that medium and the many temptations to lose oneself in trivia and outrage, they are harder to find or more easily outweighed by all the trash and ephemera. I intend neither to bury Twitter (quite) or to praise it. But given some of the factors above, along with things like the large potential audience (for those who care about this), the sensation or illusion that it is read more frequently and avidly, the number of serious people on it (whether they behave like genuinely serious people on it or not), and the sense of engagement it exudes, it's understandable that it's often easier and more tempting to turn to that medium than to a blog. Especially for those of us who are not hobby-horse riders or fear becoming hobby-horse riders, it's easier to get some thought off one's chest quickly by using Twitter. The same impulse might fade and die by the time one got around to opening a computer and drafting a blog post (which is almost certainly a point in favor of blogging). 

People who insist on the value of things like immediacy, audience, currency, letting no news slip by without comment, "engagement," and other such factors will find much to like about that platform. They will find less to like about blogs, which may have seemed immediate once upon a time but, like the difference between having both morning and afternoon editions of newspapers and having access to a 24-hour news channel, now seem slower and more antiquated by comparison. And the network effects--the smaller number of people writing regularly on blogs and the larger number of people twitting regularly--will encourage more migration. Such is life.

But, as most of what I've written above suggests, these things also have costs and perils. Virtually everything I have described as a possible virtue of Twitter is quite obviously also a potential vice. It is not an especially healthy culture or discourse. The relentless focus on the immediate makes a decent perspective on what is real news and what is trivia or ephemera unlikely, and outrage or similar emotional responses the usual and often disproportionate response to everything. It's far from clear that keeping up to date on the news is an absolute good, especially when it is measured in intervals of seconds, minutes, and hours rather than days, weeks, and years. In general I learn more that is useful about the contemporary world by reading Epictetus or Dostoevsky than by reading about some event that happened seconds ago. The number of news stories devoted to reprinting Twitter debates (stories that are cheap and easy to produce and guaranteed to find readers) rather than, say, careful investigative reporting (expensive, time-consuming, demands more expert and thus more expensive reporters, not guaranteed to result in a lot of content or much readership) encourages stenography and pot-stirring rather than serious reporting, and is one more example of the way in which both technology and the desperate urge to stay alive in an inhospitable environment have harmed journalism rather than enlivening it. Nor is it necessarily good even for serious writers and thinkers who take advantage of Twitter, and/or law professors and other academics. The desire for general "influence" is understandable but not a clear positive good for academics. That desire may encourage the political rather than the expert and disinterested character of academics' public writing. And, as I've suggested elsewhere, we should consider the possibility that despite the insistence that one's scholarship and one's public and political activities are separate and unrelated or are pursued in different ways, one's twitting may affect or infect one's actual scholarship and/or its perception.

One could go on about Twitter's potential vices and their relationship to vices or sicknesses in our general culture. None of this is surprising. There are very few unalloyed and unqualified enthusiasts about Twitter. Even most of those who think the platform as such is epiphenomenal and not much related to its content or to the culture (I disagree), or who think it is much more of a good than a bad thing, or think that criticisms of Twitter easily tend toward exaggeration or hysteria (possibly true) readily acknowledge its faults. Somewhat more interesting to me is how many people, whether critics or fans of Twitter, think and worry about contemporaneity, "relevancy," and especially immediacy itself and their downsides. But that question is hardly unknown either. And although I have not seen all the responses I would like--in particular, major and somewhat conservative changes in institutional print journalism--clearly the rise of various platforms like Medium and other sites for longer-form writing by various writers suggests a recognition of these problems and some attempt to balance them with other forms of communication. 

I offer no prescriptions or predictions. I think blogs have faded and will continue to do so, that they will not necessarily die, and that there is still definite value in them. That's especially true of the more subject-specific blogs but also of mixed blogs like this one. I think the migration to Twitter will continue, whether I like it or not. Even though doing so rests completely in my own hands, I suspect that even when I know or think that some piece of writing is better suited to this medium than to Twitter, and even if I conclude that Twitter is awful and harmful, that (unless I quit it altogether) I will still turn to it to post rather than to the blog, at least unless I devote meaningful and consecutive time to blogging (which might be better spent, not twitting, but doing more scholarly writing or other useful activities) and avoid absolutely the temptation of short takes and immediate reactions--a temptation that is part of what makes Twitter successful, addictive, and arguably deforming of individual and social character. But there's still a place for what we do here too. I hope to do more of it next year. In the meantime, my condolences to CoOp and my thanks to Howard for his role here at Prawfs.   

 

  

Posted by Paul Horwitz on December 19, 2018 at 12:36 PM in Paul Horwitz | Permalink

Comments

https://www.bimatch.net/ help bisexual and bi-curious individuals connect with each other and enjoy good dating.

Posted by: Bisexual Hookup website | Jun 18, 2019 2:46:43 AM

https://bisexualsdatingapps.net/ lists the best lesbian dating, queer dating, bi-curious dating, and bisexual dating apps.

Posted by: Bisexual Dating Apps | Jun 18, 2019 2:45:03 AM

This was very long. Could you restate this in 280 characters? TIA.

Posted by: SHG | Dec 20, 2018 8:57:52 AM

Paul writes: "One of the characteristics of Prawfs has always been that it is in part about being a law professor, and especially, in its early days, about being a young or junior law professor."

Indeed, if I recall correctly, Dan Markel intended "PrawfsBlawg" to be an amalgam of "Raw Law Professor Blog," with the "Raw" meaning young or new at the job.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Dec 19, 2018 10:45:11 PM

Does your dog walk off-lead or does someone else walk the dog? I'm just trying to get the simultaneous book-reading, three-to-five-peoples'-Twitter-page-checking, dog-walking logistics straight.

Personally, I found law blogging rewarding, got plenty of attention for it, even if it is less in vogue than it once was, and think more able people should do it.

Posted by: Asher Steinberg | Dec 19, 2018 8:23:18 PM

Post a comment