Twenty years into the transformation initiated by the World Wide Web, we have grown accustomed to a head-spinning pace of technological and social change. Innovations that would have amazed us ten years ago are now merely passing news, as transient as a tweet. Music, video, and journalism have been profoundly altered—and we have grown used to their new forms.
Even the academy, traditionally skeptical of externally generated change, has become blasé about web-induced transformation. Everyone assumes everyone else is on e-mail, is adept with digital library resources, and is electronically connected to professional organizations. Professors fire up Firefox or Skype or Google Earth in class without thinking about using “technology.” These are big changes in higher education, and they have come quickly.
Yet the foundation of academic life—the scholarship on which everything else is built—remains surprisingly unaltered. The articles and books that scholars produce today bear little mark of the digital age in which they are created. Researchers routinely use electronic tools in their professional lives but not to transform the substance or form of their scholarship. Alan Gross and Joseph Harmon, in a comprehensive overview of digital innovation in the academy, identify exciting projects that have emerged over the last two decades, but they conclude: “Mainstream publication has yet to be seriously affected.”1