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The digital scholar
The digital scholar

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1.11  Possible issues

Described image
Figure 8 The Towel of Babel

One of the reservations regarding Twitter, and other forms of online community tools, is the possibility of an echo chamber, which is the antithesis of what is desired for interdisciplinarity. As the amount of information available increases, there is an argument that it becomes more difficult to hear distinct and different voices. This occurs for two reasons: first, there is so much information arising from your immediate area of interest that it becomes difficult to keep up with this; second, it is now possible to find a group of like-minded people whatever your interests or tastes, so it is more emotionally ‘comfortable’ to spend time with these rather than with different voices. In a physical setting bounded by geographical constraints, one is more likely to be with a diverse group of people, but online the pool of people is larger so the grouping is more likely to be around interests and tastes than convenience or location. This is beneficial for many things; working with like-minded people often leads to quick development, but for interdisciplinarity it may create new types of boundaries. One can create a distorted view of what is a general consensus because dissenting voices are not heard. Of course, this is equally true (if not more so) with controlled media who will reflect certain positions.

The solution to the potential for the echo chamber to arise is to cultivate networks with a reasonable level of diversity and follow people who share diverse resources. It is not necessary to go to extremes in this for interdisciplinarity to be fostered but simply to ensure that there are some people who are in other disciplines and those who are in roles that cross boundaries.

The list above shows a number of benefits in developing a networked approach to interdisciplinarity, which may address the issues which have plagued it for many years. Indeed if researchers had intentionally set out to create a tool for promoting interdisciplinary discourse, then the resultant service may have not looked dissimilar to Twitter.

The extract from The Digital Scholar ends here.