Dissertation Project

A Library of Fragments: Digital Quotations, New Literacies, and Attention on Social Media

Completed and filed in May of 2017.

From tweets to GIFs to memes, social media is awash in bite-sized texts that are perfect for quick, instantaneous consumption and viral sharing. Mixed up in the raucous frenzy of social media, however, are excerpts that originate from print media: quotations from novelists, poets, philosophers, and other authors. The book, far from extinct, has nevertheless become “fragmented,” circulating in new ways on digital networks.

This study examines the phenomenon of quotations—especially those from books—on the social network Tumblr. Its fundamental question is whether the fragmentation of the book represents a threat to traditional forms of attentive, immersive engagement with long-form texts.

The study reports on three research phases, each with distinct methods and data. The first phase, relying on qualitative and quantitative discourse analysis, examined the role of books and traditionally print-based discourses within the context of Tumblr. The second employed ethnographic data techniques, questionnaires and interviews, to uncover Tumblr users’ purposes for sharing quotes from books as well as the ways that quoting connects to these users’ broader experiences of literacy. The third phase used computational linguistics to distinguish between different types of quotations and to illuminate the features that contribute to “quotability.”

Supported by fellowships from NAEd/Spencer, UC Berkeley, and the Berkeley Center for New Media.