Planned Obsolescence

There’s a second Planned Obsolescence on my vita, a fact that may seem a bit odd. During the summer of 2002, having just finished the revisions on my first book manuscript, The Anxiety of Obsolescence, and knowing that I had a many-months slog ahead of me before the book would see the light of day (an assessment that turned out to be astonishingly over-optimistic; it actually took four years for the book to come out), I found myself craving immediacy, wanting to engage more directly with an audience, to get ideas out and into circulation in a far more timely fashion. Right about that time, I stumbled onto the blog of a friend from graduate school and felt a pang of recognition: this was the form, the way to reach the folks I wanted to be talking with.

I named the blog I then started Planned Obsolescence as a sort of joking acknowledgment of the form’s inherent ephemerality; the material I wrote about there was taken from the bits and pieces of my daily reading and engagement with the always-vanishing contemporary, and the posts I wrote scrolled, with time, down the front page and off into the archives. On the other hand, though, the blog has had an astonishing persistence: I’ve been at it for over seven years, writing over 1300 posts that have collectively received nearly 3000 comments, and all of that archival material remains accessible.

Not only that, but these blog posts were the first of my publications to be cited by other scholars, the first of my writing that obtained broader attention within the field. It was through connections established by the blog — connections to other scholars who blogged, and connections to the readers of my blog — that I was first extended invitations to give talks and to collaborate on new projects.

There’s been a debate for years now within the academy, a debate that began almost the moment scholars began blogging, about whether one’s blog should be included on one’s CV, whether it constitutes a publication or whether it should be listed as some kind of service, akin to serving on the editorial board of a journal. Fortunately for me, as a scholar of digital media studies, I have a “multimedia” category on my vita into which the blog fits nicely, but I feel strongly that scholars should include their blogs as scholarship, where those blogs are predominantly oriented toward a critical engagement with the same materials about which they write in more formal venues. I make this argument in no small part because of the urgency with which I believe we need to reconnect our critical work with the work of the public intellectual, making the kinds of analysis we do available to a broader community of readers. Such public work is necessary not only for academics to be able to communicate in an ongoing way with one another, but also for demonstrating the ongoing relevance of the academy and its values to an increasingly skeptical voting public.

I also include the blog in this dossier as scholarship because of the key role that it played in the development of my most recent book project, Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy. It was both the form of and the audience for the blog that enabled me to begin thinking through what the future of digital scholarship might look like.

And yes, I named the book after the blog, in large part as tribute to that new scholarly form, but also because I increasingly believe that the permanence we believe is represented by print-on-paper publishing is an illusion, and that unless we begin to understand its obsolescence, we run the risk of finding our traditional channels of scholarly communication choked off without our having adequate — or even more productive — replacements for them.