Citations are dumb


Image from "Victory of the People" on Flickr

I really find citations to be annoying.  Who cares if you are supposed to add a period instead of a comma?  Who cares if everything gets capitalized, or only the first words?  The original point of citations was so you could refer the reader to a  relevant quote or an idea from someone else.  Well guess what.  We have a way better tool for that now. They’re called hyperlinks.

Citations are the original hyperlink. Example: A reader is cruising along reading a lengthy document on law or medicine or something equally prestigious and comes across something with which he is unfamiliar. “Golly, I sure wish I knew more about where this information came from,” he says to himself.  But lo and behold there is a little number next to the sentence he was just reading.  He glances at the bottom of the page and finds the same corresponding number next to a little note, a footnote if you will.  He is then able to follow the citation in the footnote to a completely different article and then learn more about that topic.

The same process is currently availble on the web except it is much easier.  If you see something you want to know more about, you click on it.

I can see why students cut corners and  spend as little time as possible on citations. It’s boring and it is not the reason they went to school.  I get bored to tears coming up with citation examples.  And I don’t always get the capitalization right.  Citations are not fun or glamorous.

Even though I think they’re dumb, I can still see the value in them.  Properly citing teaches you to give credit where credit is due. It teaches you to be able to separate your thoughts from other people’s thoughts. It’s also good practice following set formats and writing a certain way.  In their jobs many of these students may have to use specialized writing: things like business memos, technical writing, commenting in their code. Students have to learn sooner or later they have to be able to understand and follow specific rules for writing.

That doesn’t make it any more fun, but at least it gives them a reason why they should care about proper citations.


The Magic of Writing

TC & Me

TC & Me

The author T.C. Boyle was on campus this week, and I was able to meet him. He stopped by the library to view cover art that students had created for his novel The Tortilla Curtain. Some of the art was pretty amazing and very creative. I know we are told to never judge a book by its cover, but everyone does it anyway.

He also spoke Tuesday evening, which I live-twittered. There was something that he said that really resonated with me. He said something to the effect that he doesn’t know what he thinks until he writes about it. In describing his writing process for The Tortilla Curtain he said that around the time he was writing the book (as always) there was a big debate about immigration with people staunchly on one side or the other. It sounded like Boyle wanted to learn more about how he felt about the controversy, so he wrote a story about it.

His way of writing seems pretty amazing. He simply goes through and writes slowly and thoughtfully without really changing things after he decides on them. He never plans out endings. He lets the story go where it takes him.

This hit home with me because I think I am the same way. I often am not sure what I think about things. Writing things down, and blogging makes my thoughts more concrete. I may not always agree with myself later, but I can see my own thinking process and even have a discussion with myself later. That is one of the great beauties of writing: it is a way of freezing time, taking a picture not of physical things but of thoughts and feelings.


Information Literacy for the 22nd Century

Yesterday, I attended the Burlington Book Festival.  The best session was one entitled Writing in the 22nd Century: A Panel Discussion.  It was a terrible title that did not really fit what they were talking about.  Nevertheless, it was a great session.  They were actually talking about the 21st century — more specifically the near future.  It was also not limited to writing.  It was a discussion about writing, reading, and consumption of information.

The panel was composed of Steve Benen a political pundit blogger from the Washington Monthly, Cathy Resmer online editor of Seven Days Newspaper, and Ann DeMarle, head of the Emergent Media Center at Champlain College.  It was moderated by Jeff Rutenbeck Dean for the Division of Communication and Creative Media at Champlain College.

One thing that got people going in the audience was when Jeff said that books were an inefficient means of communication. Publishing online is much quicker and people can interact and have a conversation with the information, whereas books take years to publish and you cannot interact with a book.  The audience got defensive and sentimental about books, expressing that they did not want them to go away.  Someone actually stated how books were one of the most perfectly evolved forms of media.  Jeff also passed around a Kindle for people to gawk at.  The guy next to me was ogling it for about five minutes.

Photo by davidking

Photo by davidking

What was especially interesting was the discussion that ensued after Jeff brought up the idea that textbooks are “so superficial.”  He said that for his classes, “you could get 90 percent of the information in the textbooks from Wikipedia.”  At this a student commented that he did not go to textbooks first.  He went to Google or YouTube or blogs or other online sources.  Barbara Shatara, a librarian at the Fletcher Free Library asked him the same question I was thinking: how do you evaluate this information for credibility?  His answer was that he evaluated by cross referencing.  If he found info on one blog he would look and see if it was confirmed in other places.  If there were more people agreeing with something than disagreeing then he would believe it.

This gives a good insight into how information is being evaluated in this era.  Instead of looking for some authority people look to the masses.  “Do a lot of people believe this?  Ok, good then I will too.”  A lot of people believe that evolution is a falsehood and that global warming is a fabrication.   A great danger with this is when looking to corroborate or disprove a piece of information on the web, it very much depends on how you are searching.  If you search with keywords only  related to creationism, or find a creationist website and start following their links, the information your find is going to be colored in a very specific way.  With a mindset such as this, the tyranny of the majority can then determine what is true and not true, and that is very dangerous.

There were a number of debates back and forth and everyone really got into the session.  I was surprised at how many people were engaged and actually caring about these issues.  I guess information literacy is a real issue that people outside of libraries or academia care about.