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Last month, I heard University of Brighton professor of media, Tara Brabazon speak on BBC Radio 4, while following the #GoodRadioClub on Twitter. Her students are not allowed to use Google or Wikipedia, said Brabazon, something first picked up by the media in January last year.


I expressed my doubts via Twitter, quickly and without too much consideration: something along the lines of 'what is she on?' How can this academic ignore, or enforce a blackout, on such a large cultural factor in our society? Surely her views have been misrepresented here?

Get in touch with her, suggested presenter of the Radio 4 Analysis programme, Kenan Malik, via Twitter.

That I did, and within a few weeks, I am sitting with her in a Brighton cafe. It wasn't just me who got in contact after the programme - Brabazon says she received over 600 supportive emails the following week from people who don't comment online for fear of being 'trolled' or labelled 'luddites', but were appreciative of her stance.

The web 2.0 environment is confused, says Brabazon: "We think 'create the platform first' rather than 'who's the audience', or 'what message do you want to get across?'"

Only some people can do that, she says. For example, Bob Dylan: "He didn't go to the audience; the audience came to Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan could be ahead of his audience - advertising and PR and serve an existing audience."

And your average blogger? 'With the greatest respect', no, she says. Maybe they think they're Bob Dylan, but they're not.

"Just because they're online and have time on their hands doesn't mean they intrinsically have anything to say," she says.

Brabazon has taught students about online media since 1997 ('which in online terms is when dinosaurs roamed the earth'); and is on Facebook, but not Twitter ('I'm a bit busy to be frank. I'm a bit busy living my life, rather than narrativizing my life.').

She blogs occasionally and plays with Google rankings - it's no coincidence, she says, that Brabazon.net tops her own name's search results.

She also runs audio lab projects, demonstrates her dictaphone knowledge during the interview and uses a Flip video camera to send me a video interview (after my own recording fails).

"I think we can pretend everyone is a tremendous writer; we can pretend everybody had a great voice for radio; we can pretend everyone can be a rock star - we can pretend everyone can be Bob Dylan. Or, indeed we can say: 'you know what, it's not only talent that's differentially distributed in a culture, but so is education and expertise'," she says.

"Assuming everyone has something to say in a blog is incorrect, and assuming that everyone has an exciting life, that everyone can Tweet endlessly, and that all their followers want every micro-moment of their day is delusional."

This is the crux of Brabazon's argument: "If I have any critique it would be that the web 2.0 environment has been an age filled with assumptions. Assumptions about young people, about writing, about audience - what we actually require is a lot more evidence about who, what, why and when."

So, this Google ban - a controversial statement that has got people talking, I suggest. The ban may be true, but 'my goodness me, we're at war in Iraq - that's controversial," Brabazon retorts.


There's so much fantastic material out there she wants people to read before they take a chance on Google's own algorithms, she says.

"That's why I write online so I can draw people to the higher quality material," she adds.

Brabazon uses post-colonialism as an example. Unless her students know the primary theorists they're unlikely to stumble across them via Google, she claims. Google Scholar does increase the odds for finding Said, Spivak, Bhabha et al, however, she says.

"I really try and make sure they [the students] have already read the material and then I offer a guide through it always saying to them, 'I am one expert on this; there are many experts on this. You respond, you engage with me. If you've got something to say, say it'," she adds.

She is saying don't cite Google or show you've gone through Google: "Google - if they wanna use it that's their business. I'm not a Nazi. But, by the same token, the argument is that the material they find through Google is not of the quality I require, she says.

"Dear me, I'm not against Google - I use Google to shoe shop very frequently. Google is tremendous to buy [things] online. I would not have these shoes if I did not have Google. However, Google is distinct from a university education."

Then, to her real bug bear - Wikipedia, a place you can't even buy shoes.

"My position hasn't changed - online or offline - could give a damn. Wiki-enabled or print based - could give a damn," she says.

"The point is that encylopaedias are not high enough a level of scholarship to be citing at universities. This is about peer review and expertise. Whatever they want to look at is their business."

I understand now, why she takes issue with my suggestion that her ban is controversial: she's not saying students can't read it; she seems to be saying that they shouldn't show they've read it. Hardly controversial stuff for a university professor, one might say.

So have her views been misrepresented in the media? We wouldn't know because she never - and claims she never will - comment on an article, however inaccurately she is portrayed.

"The moment you've published online; the moment you've talked to a journalist you've lost control. I have never ever, and will never offer a comment back. Don't feed the trolls," she says.

Ever? She has been in this game a long time, she reminds me.
 
I'm half tempted to be as provocative as possible, to be the one to get that first comment. Instead I'm left with an article about an unusual ban, that - to me - doesn't really seem like an unusual ban at all, and the more I consider it, I'm not really convinced it's much of a ban at all.

Part 2 will follow on Monday April 27: Brabazon on digital integration, UK perception of media studies, online democracy and why she thinks Clay Shirky ('bless him') is wrong.

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