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Field Notes from the Digital Prairie

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Big Ideas, Modest Proposal

In my presentation on "McLuhan and the Tactile Web" at HighEdWeb 2012 last month, I noted that one of my reasons for submitting the proposal in the first place was a desire to see higher ed web professionals (and web professionals in general) take a step back from the minutiae of our day-to-day work to engage with some of the "big ideas" discussed in the theory and criticism produced by academic fields like media studies.  The technology within which we web monkeys live and breathe moves so quickly, and is so detail-oriented, that in the nitty-gritty of our day-to-day work we rarely have the opportunity to switch our focus to the sort of big picture thinking that theorists like McLuhan engage in. Making the effort to do this -- to inform our practice with theory -- would, I think, make us better at our craft and result in better experiences for our users.

While there currently exist a number of great sites for web practitioners (like A List Apart) as well as a few--though surprisingly few, really--fascinating journals (like Fibreculture) aimed at scholars studying the web and related technologies, I see an opening for a site that could serve as a meeting place for both. As I'm envisioning it, this site would serve as a place for those who actually build the web as well as those who spend their time thinking about the high-level, big picture concepts to mingle, to share ideas and experiences. This would give theorists a real chance to shape the web of the future, and provide practitioners the chance to think deeply and constructively about the medium within which we work.

Such an undertaking would, of course, only be possible as a collaborative effort. So I turn to you, dear readers: would such a site be worth the effort? Is there something out there of which I am unaware that is already filling this niche? What would you like such a resource to enable you to do? What challenges would you foresee arising in such an undertaking?


Doug Nichols said...

I don't think there is ever really a time where something like an area to come up with big ideas could ever be considered not worth the effort.

Really the only thing that even sounds similar is something like TED but that of course is much more widespread than just higher ed or the web.

Also another similar venture (which has really been around for much longer than most people realize) is the RSA ( which is Ideas and Actions for a 21st century enlightenment. Very much like TED.

Doug Nichols said...

And I meant to include this in my previous comment but somehow missed my mark:

One of my biggest problems I face in my current position as an Army Of One in this office is that I find myself bogged down way too much with the things I -have- to do and by the time it comes to doing something I want to do I am so fried it's nearly impossible to get one of those creative sparks.

I could easily see a meeting place like what you are describing as something that could either light that spark and get the creative juices going, or at the very least allow someone like me to attach myself to someone with a grand idea.

Fran Zablocki said...


I think this is an awesome idea, and would love to get the chance to talk more with you about it. I like big ideas, but only when they don't remain theory and can drive thoughtful actions that change the things we do on the ground. A place where both theory and practice could coexist would be great!

Fran Zablocki