söndag 14 november 2010

Upcoming virtual worlds book series

This is a busy time of the year and the past week has mostly been filled by teaching. Also, two theses that I supervise (one master's and one bachelor's) are almost finished and the students have sent me the final versions for review before it's time to hand them in, present them and have them judged/graded. Preliminary titles for these two theses are "Cheating and creative gaming in online games" and "Personal integrity in social media: A study of adolescents' personal lives on Facebook" (links to the finished web-accessible theses will eventually turn up here [FYI: both theses are written in Swedish].

What I want to touch upon in this text though is the fact that I have accepted an invitation to be a member of the editorial advisory board of a new book series on Virtual Worlds. Springer is publishing a series of "Briefs" in many different disciplines/research areas and they are now setting up a book series on virtual worlds.

These SpringerBriefs consist of relatively short texts (50-125 pages - up to 68 000 words) on current topics, and the turn-around time is short (they books can be printed in as little as 8-12 weeks after acceptance).

As a member of the board, I am expected to:
  • keep my eyes and ears open to recruit authors for the series
  • review book proposals
  • help steer the direction of the series
  • promote the series (i.e. what I am doing right here right now)
The work to specify the aim and the scope of the virtual worlds book series has just commenced and I will get back to this topic here as soon as there is an official text with more detailed information about the profile of the book series (and a webpage to point to for further information). Typical topics in these SpringerBriefs are:
  • A timely report of state-of-the art analytical techniques
  • A bridge between new research results published in journal articles and a contextual literature review
  • A snapshot of a hot or emerging topic
  • An in-depth case study or clinical example
  • A presentation of core concepts that students must understand in order to make independent contributions

As much as I like the idea of these Briefs - they seem to fill a gap between journal articles and full-length books - I'm not too fond of one specific justification for the SpringerBriefs book series: "Briefs allow authors to present their ideas and readers to absorb them with minimal time investment". What the...? As if the goal of (disseminating) research should be that it's easily digestible...? Behind such a statement I sense an underlying assumption that short, fast and easy is good, and that long, slow and difficult is bad. This immediately gets me thinking about Nicholas Carr's latest book, "The shallows: What the Internet is doing to our brains" - since I'm reading it right now. It is a book-length argument that can be summarized by the "teaser article" Carr published two and a half years ago in The Atlantic; "Is Google making us stupid?". I use the short article in my course on social media.

I don't think it's wrong to publish a book series like SpringerBriefs - I actually happen to think it's a very good idea, but I on the other don't want such a series to be the CliffNotes of virtual worlds literature either. The tagline of Cliff Notes is "the fastest way to learn". I've never actually read a CliffNote, but having only read about them, I hope their tagline doesn't crassly mean "the fastest way to pretend to have learned", or, "learning painlessly and with a minimal investment of time, effort and engagement, and, without having learnt anything of substance and without remembering anything of importance a week after the exam"... I notice that CliffNotes now have downloadable mp3 "CramCasts" where you can listen to "a quick and authoritative summary of [a] classic on the go". I crammed the CliffNotes CramCast for George Orwell's "1984" (4 minutes and 23 seconds) and let me tell you, it was a nightmare. One of the things I now know is "the top three things every student should know about the novel".

Now, I haven't actually read a SpringerBrief myself yet, but I would personally prefer a Brief book to be regarded as a teaser or as an introduction to, rather than as a replacement of something, whatever. For difficult questions, a full-length book might be more appropriate - and that's totally ok.

I'll wrap this argument up by quoting Alan Kay (about the design of programming languages): "Simple things should be simple. Complex things should be possible". This ought to be true for academic publications too. Texts about "simple things" should be simple (short, easy and quick to read). But books about complex phenomena, demanding a more substantial investment in time and brain cycles by both the author and the readers should also be possible! We definitely don't want to trivialize our research so that it will better appeal to the breathlessly fragmented schedule of a scatterbrain ADHD twitterhead, right?

The editorial advisory board (at the moment) consists of around 20 persons and the only other Swede is Robin Teigland from the Stockholm School of Economics ("Handelshögskolan"). I know of her and in some sense I perhaps even "know" her (we have exchanged e-mail), but we have never actually met IRL (in real life). Perhaps this is an excellent foundation for cooperating on a book series about virtual worlds...?

The person who is putting all of this together, working with Springer and recruiting editorial advisory board members is Anna Peachey, but it was my old "nemesis"(?) Ralph Schroeder who floated my name to her. Ralph literally shredded my ph.d. thesis manuscript to pieces a decade ago at a semi-formal "final seminar" half a year or so before I presented the real thing ("Code begets community: On social and technical aspects of managing a virtual community"). Ralph also gave me very helpful advice about what was badly needed to straighten it out, and all in all helped me make it into a much much better ph.d. thesis.

Coming back to the virtual world series, do you have interests that can be related to that theme? If so, which? Do you think they could be published in the form of a Brief at some point in time?

110623: the series will actually be called "Springer Series in Immersive Environments".

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