This blog post would have been much more convincing if I had written it earlier in the day, as I had planned.

Today was a beautiful day in State College.  It was 66 and sunny, the kind of day when you walk around town just because, even though you don’t actually have anything to do there (I did not, of course do this… but I thought about it).  What added to my enjoyment of the day was a great meeting I had in the afternoon (I know, a meeting?  Fun?  Ridiculous!)

So I’m a fellow with the Center for Democratic Deliberation here at PSU, and as part of that program I’m part of a Dissertation Writing Group that meets once a week.  This week it was my turn to submit writing, and I dutifully sent around the beginning of the chapter I was working on.  Since last posting to this blog about my dissertation (so very very long ago) I’ve started working on a different chapter: chapter one, wherein I define the purpose and key terms of my project, as well as (maybe) do a lit review of what other people in my field have said about the things I’m talking about.  I had found a particularly apt anecdote/reference for the beginning of the chapter, which I was happy about.  During the meeting, I quickly realized that the people commenting on my writing wanted something fairly obvious from me: an actual, straightforward definition of my project and the terms I was using to describe it.  I was annoyed at myself to realize that, even though that’s the whole purpose of the chapter, and probably something I should open with, I had not provided it.  Still, I was also profoundly happy to have a conversation with a bunch of smart people who knew what I was working on and could help me clarify it in, you know, words.  So here’s the result of that meeting, a more basic and clear definition of my project:

I’m writing about periodicity.  What I mean when I say periodicity is the quality of a text being published with regularity and a certain frequency.  I was asked, during our meeting, what it would mean if something had a “high periodicity.”  I was a little taken aback by the question, and struggled to answer it.  After I (stupidly) called periodicity an adjective (it is a noun, I know that, I swear) I had to admit that saying high or low periodicity could maybe refer to the regularity (i.e. dependability) of periodic publication, but that I had never really thought of using the word that way.  But what do I mean?  What do other people mean when they refer to a given periodical’s periodicity?  I’m of the impression that they mean, simply, the frequency (and not the regularity at all): the periodical appears weekly, that is its periodicity.  Whether its authors actually manage to publish it that often is relevant, I suppose, but isn’t subsumed under the same term… or is it?

Here’s a dictionary definition: The quality or state of being periodic; recurrence at regular intervals.

Some other things that came up on Answers.com were interesting sidenotes:

In music theory, periodicity is described as “predictability gives rise to expectations”.

The dental dictionary (really Answers.com?) says that periodicity is “Events that tend to repeat at predictable intervals.”

The opposite of periodic, regarding texts, is “occasional” (meaning recurring, but at irregular or unpredictable intervals).

I will want to do something with the idea that something is periodic if it is “predictable,” maybe even “dependable.”  In contrast, things that are not periodic are unreliable, dangerous, and not worthwhile.

Of course, what I want to talk about is not simply the fact of periodicity, but rather the apparent “death of periodicity” caused by real-time publishing mechanisms like the intertubes.  Indeed, my whole opening reference thing was to this speech by Tony Blair back in 2007, wherein he calls the news media a “feral beast,” a development he blaims on the “24 hour news cycle” that is, in turn, caused by (what else?) technology!  On the one hand, I’m all for a critique of technology that looks at inherent biases (I really like the word “affordances,” but I’m not sure I get to use it yet…).  On the other hand, I think “oh come on cranky pants!”

The whole point of my dissertation, then, will be looking at the ways that, despite people thinking that periodicity is dying with the newspaper (and the newspaper is totally not really dying, btw, although it is definitely doing a Kafka-esque metamorphosis), it is actually one of the most important things we need to think about now.  And here is something I just realized, even though we kind of talked about it this afternoon: the archiving function of the internet is totally one of the things that makes periodicity important.  See, previously periodicity only really mattered as a principle of writing if you were, you know, writing for a periodical (that is, a magazine or a newspaper).  If you wanted to jump outside of the period of a given text, you had to do some work (meaning, if you wanted to read a newspaper from three months ago you had to find a library that had archived them, because no one else kept them lying around).  But now, a) the number of people who can publish their own writing, and who tend to do it periodically, has exploded in the last two decades.  Now, instead of a few people writing periodically to audiences of all sizes, we have millions, and the audiences are both smaller and larger.  Also, b) the archiving function of the internet makes it so that periodicity of online writing is at once more and less apparent.  More, because you can look up the whole series of things that have been written: follow a series of blog posts, or look at newspaper articles on the days they were published in the sequence they were published.  Less, because the internet lets you search by content or keyword rather than just date, so you can be completely ignorant of period or periodicity.

Sidenote: do I want to look at time and writing more generally?  That might be too broad a focus, but it might also let me get at more issues, and not have to finesse things as much… ok, tabled for further thought.

Anyway, I think that ultimately what my thesis will be is something like “even though periodicity is not being forced on texts by printing schedules, it is still an important part of the impact of texts on audiences, and we need to at least consider it when we’re writing.”  As Jessica said to me today “if you only post to your blog every two weeks, you’re not really blogging.  You’re occasionally putting shit up on the internets.”  Ouch.  So true.

There was more I wanted to say, but I’m sleepy, and might just go to bed…

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