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What's Next? Who Knows?

Like most educators interested in technology and pedagogy, I have followed the digital revolution down many dead-end paths. We want to believe in publishing (and sharing) for the masses, but I'm less convinced today than I was twenty years ago that the masses want to share serious ideas.

The masses want to share kitties, their latest meals, breaking celebrity gossip, and photos they will regret sharing almost as soon as the images enter the data stream.

Blogger. Facebook. Twitter. Tumblr.

I have five semi-active Blogger-based blogs. My wife and I have a less active writing blog. I have Facebook pages for the blogs, Twitter feeds, and two Tumblr accounts.

The traffic to the blogs is in decline, from thousands of weekly visits to a few hundred. The Facebook pages are also trailing off, as Facebook seeks to charge for promoting content.

Twitter just annoys me, with an endless stream of automated tweets. I do have one account from which I follow real people posting real, original Tweets, but the other accounts are my blogs Tweeting to other blogs, automatically. It is comically absurd.

I miss the old days when the places I visited online were populated by individuals sharing ideas. Not ideology, either, but genuine questions and suggestions. Yes, these were academic forums, generally, but anyone could join and feel like it was a community of learning.

I posted to USENET groups in the 1980s. You can still find my post from the 1980s in literature and technology newsgroup archives. I belonged to CompuServe, was SysOp of a Fidonet BBS, and tried every online "community" system to come along. Their life spans have gotten shorter. The only Listservs I still read are for academics, about 20 years behind the times.

Friendster. MySpace. Yahoo 360. LiveJournal. Yahoo Groups. I checked in on Yahoo Groups, and discovered that groups with 1500 posts a month in 2003 have none this year. I left a few years ago, leaving groups I founded to whither away.

The shifts from text, to proprietary graphics, to HTML, to mobile. Endured them all.

RSS readers. Podcasting. Niche tech, at best, though streaming, on-demand media builds on those ideas. I loved RSS, especially during the brief time that Apple included RSS in its mail and browser applications. Google Reader was fantastic, too. I still like RSS more than visiting sites directly… so why do I forget to use my RSS reader? It's just not in front of me, so like millions of others I have largely abandoned RSS feeds.

Podcasting, which uses RSS feeds to announce new episodes, was a great idea. The problem is, I don't listen to podcasts anymore. Not in iTunes and not in the Podcast application on my phone. No, I listen to streaming radio, which does include some podcasts. Another good idea, the faded away.

SecondLife? The only thing less engaging than LiveJournal. Minecraft? Really? Sorry, this too shall pass... Thank goodness. Let the graphical versions of Internet Relay Chat fade away… it won't be a huge loss.

Yes, I loved IRC and was a regular in several tech and literature channels. And IRC is, for the most part, gone. Right along with Yahoo Chat Rooms, ICQ, MySpace Chat, and other interactive spaces. Okay, they aren't entirely dead, but close enough.

But, I'm still following the meandering tech paths.

Forgive me if I'm not convinced Medium is the Next Big Thing. But, I did create a Medium account, because other writing and digital humanities professors are doing the same. Likely, it's another dead end, but you never know when something will explode for a short time.

Hardware changed online spaces. When you had a computer, sitting at a desk and chatting with groups made some sense. But now that we use our phones and tablets constantly, we interact in different ways. Streams have displaced rooms and forums.

I've made the journey from Apple and Atari, Commodore and Sinclair, to the IBM PC, the Mac, Windows, back to Mac and on to the iPad. Most of my interactions online are probably via a phone, today. That's not a device for reading long documents or composing long blog entries.

I have no idea what's next. But, I'll keep trying new things… just in case.
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