As I write this post on my iPhone (waiting at the doctor's office), I'm interrupted regularly by the tweets coming from @ScholarlyComm -- reporting live at Columbia University during a conference on the Future of Learned Societies. I'm glad to be a virtual participant, especially since my institution decided against observing Open Access Week, and this is a very exciting time for changing how scholars disseminate their work and conduct their research.
I'm going to send @ScholarlyComm a direct message in a second, suggesting he/she use a hashtag like #openaccessweek to be sure other audiences who would be interested in this conference can join in as I am, via electronic means. As this Twitter reporter sends snippets along, I take a second to search online about the speaker and the learned society he's affiliated with. At my mobile computer (now in a parking lot in my car) I may in fact be getting more out of this than if I were in the room in New York. I combine my listening with casual research that links this speaker's or this Tweeter's interests with mine.
I also am checking Twitterfall on my iPhone, set up to bring me real time tweets filtered on the hashtag #openaccessweek or #openaccess since I (like so many worldwide) am focusing on this topic this week and checking in on various events simultaneously occurring in celebration of Open Access. This is fun. In a couple hours a presentation on Open Access in the arts and humanities will be taking place at the University of Utah, and if no one tweets it live I'll get the near-live version online (Columbia is making their conferences, like past ones, freely available on iTunesU).
What an awesome time to be a scholar! Not only will I get up-to-the-minute thinking from like-minded people across the globe, but I can interact in real time (or nearly so) with those involved. I watch the Twitter names of posts that are meaningful to me, then, using Tweetie or another Twitter client application, I look up the person behind the moniker, check out his/her web page, and quickly find real colleagues. If they have invested in creating a web presence, I get a quick sense of their work and its relevance to me, and then I decide sometimes to comment on their blog, follow them on Twitter, or contact them directly -- all while seated in my car awaiting my son.
This is real time scholarly inquiry, and it has a value that complements and transcends traditional scholarly publication. The tools are only getting better and better for discovery, networking, data mining, networking, collaborating, representing findings and disseminating learned communication. I pity my colleagues trapped in the print paradigm. By the time a journal article appears (or even an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education), what they report on will be secondary to the real conversation. The real scholars are the real-time scholars. We use legacy knowledge systems and respect them for what they do, but we don't wait for them to fossilize the conversation; we're too busy growing live knowledge with the more intellectually agile tools of mobile phones, microblogging, and live update streams.