A month or so ago, I began the semester by jotting down some first impressions about Daniel Cohen and Tom Scheinfeldt’s Hacking the Academy. Somewhat more seasoned, I return to it now with an update of a sort.
First, I stand by the point I made in my first post: Hacking the Academy offers insights and controversies aplenty, but few of these are of the sort that couldn’t be gotten through a tweet or status update.
In part, this is why I found Michael O’Malley’s essay on reading, writing, and the peer review system refreshing (O’Malley, “Reading and Writing,” 25-27.) His style engages without seeming desperate. His critique of the peer review system is specific and focused. Most importantly, I could easily imagine how digital networks in particular are well-suited to solving the problems he identifies. Not that O’Malley sets forth a concrete solution. If anything, he spends a bit too much time describing what’s wrong with the current state of academic writing. By the time he argues for embracing digital networks as a less stultifying form of peer review, it’s hard not to agree that some solution is surely necessary.
Hammering out that solution, O’Malley leaves to his readers. Like most essays in Hacking the Academy, his resides in the realm of ideas -- probably a smart decision, given the time and length constraints. Certainly, the approach sparks heated conversation. Still, it gives the false impression that once the Big Ideas are had, the particulars will work themselves out. That grand-idea-having, not tedious-solution-crafting, is the most significant task facing digital humanists. And I remain suspicious of this implication, if only because Hacking the Academy itself reveals how banal practicalities like time and length have a way of shaping the discourse.