One of my role models is the academic Tyler Shores. I discovered his work while scrolling through Twitter. He had posted a very interesting article, and from there I found his website, and from there I concluded – this person is really freakin cool.
Tyler’s speaking at the Hay Festival on the difference between reading in print and on screen. The event is on May 31st. I’d recommend going to the Hay Festival, despite having some issues with it (not enough focus on people age 15-30! but that’s a problem I have with everything). I attended in 2017 – the festival really does bring together some of the most brilliant minds currently speaking in public today.
I asked if I could interview Tyler, and he responded enthusiastically! Here’s what he said:
What are you currently researching?
I research reading in print and reading on screen — including aspects of the reading experience such as our attention spans, multitasking behavior, and how we manage digital distractions.
I also work on academic social media and how scholars do (or do not) communicate and navigate information through social media, as well as how online platforms may play a role in the fashioning of scholarly identities.
How do you think this will contribute to society?
I have no idea how, or if, anything I do will contribute to society (I talk more on this later in the interview!). However, digital distractions are inevitably part of the fabric of our everyday lives. (ps: many times have you checked your email or received phone notifications while working through this blog post?).
For me, digital distraction is an exciting topic because we are all to an extent figuring things out as we go. At the very least, I think there is value in research that aims to make visible the largely invisible ways in which we currently interact with our technology and how our everyday digital habits are influencing our lives, our selves, and our relation to the rest of the world.
What is the hardest part about being an Academic?
Academic work can sometimes feels like sending a little paper boat out into the ocean: we don’t always know what direction we are aiming for, let alone any future knowledge of what might become of our little boats.
There is definitely no clear right path for everyone. Whether we like it or not, there is always some sense of having to keep up with the Joneses, and what seems to work well for you may end up being a complete disaster for me, even if we work on the same kinds of things. Being an academic can be a process of self knowledge (what do you really care about? why? do you have questions that you are able to spend an inordinate amount of your waking hours thinking about?) as much as it is about subject knowledge.
On a more personal level, sometimes our sense of self can become too bound up in our work — but always remember: we are much more than just the sum of our degrees and CV items.
Why did you decide to become an Academic?
I did not take a straightforward path to the academic life: having worked first in the tech industry at Google in Mountain View where I helped to run the Authors@Google program (it’s a tremendous online library of talks, think of it as Google’s version of TED talks); then as a director of nonprofit education, and a few other stops along the way before coming to Cambridge.
What has motivated me towards academia is that I sincerely want to connect our research with ways that influence people’s everyday experiences for the better. People often tell me about how inundated they feel with the amount of information on digital distractions, on social media, on reading on screens — and there is a great deal of just terrible information out there. How can we best get the information that really matters out to the people who are seeking answers?
Any advice for anyone thinking of becoming an Academic?
Do the kind of work that you truly find interesting, otherwise academic life will leave you disenchanted and/or weird. And think really hard whether the academic route is the best way for you approach the work that you find interesting.
For anyone that is thinking of becoming an academic, I will say that the process of applying for various programs or looking at different institutions can be a valuable exercise in thinking about different possible versions of your self: could you see yourself as this kind of researcher, or that kind of scholar? What kinds of things excite and inspire you and what kinds of things make you feel the opposite, and why?
And be sure to talk to people, all kinds of people, and especially those that don’t always have the same backgrounds and interests that you do. I believe serendipity is a wonderful thing, and those unexpected connections and insights from not always knowing what it is you are looking for can be the best kinds of discoveries of all.
Tyler Shores is a PhD student in the Faculty of Education at the University of Cambridge. His research interests include the experience of reading in print and digital mediums, attention spans, distractions, and social media. Tyler has published on social media, online culture, and philosophy. You can follow Tyler on Twitter at: @tylershores