I find myself at the end of the school year working late to put the finishing touches on last-minute assignments and wondering to myself if I will ever have a professor who will embrace a new style of essay writing. One not constrained to the limited capabilities of a traditional “paper”, bound by the sensibilities that come from working in a single medium for millennia. With all the new abilities afforded us by our interconnectedness to the world through the internet, why is it still unacceptable to incorporate these freedoms into academic pursuits?
The short answer is ease of use: that paper represents a sense of mobility and portability (not to mention disposability) which comes at a much lower cost than owning a laptop or a portable device capable of reading and making full use of “’net” benefits afforded by such things as video embedding in word processing documents and that cornerstone of the internet, hyperlinking. But as more and more people carry around iDevices and other increasingly sophisticated technologies – more importantly, as the price of these things drop – will we see a shift towards incorporating more fancy tech into academic writing? That is not to suggest that there is no-one doing such things, but rather that the mainstream is missing out by not adopting these kinds of changes.
Imagine if you will that you are writing a paper. For a long time you have been able to incorporate images into the text of your essays, but now you find that it is less images that bear relevance to your areas of interest and it is more short films. Or that you are, as I am now, writing about a film or a sequence and would like to make visual reference to it in your essay. Paper does not allow you to do this, but with a digital file, you could. You could even go the wiki rout with your citations: rather than leave them as ambiguous references to books or websites, you could link directly to the sections you used in your writing. The current MLA bibliography rules are perfectly situated to support this addition to the link economy.
You would still need rules to govern the appropriate use of these extended abilities. As much as I love it, you don’t want your academic papers to be so hyperlinked to explanatory articles that it comes out looking like TV Tropes (sorry). And beware Rick Rolling! But on a whole, there is a place for the inclusion of new technology in academic settings. Who knows how long it will be before we see it?