Monday, March 24, 2008


I don't quite know what to make of this. My first instinct is to delete every social networking account before I go on the market, and come back with a nothing profile and re-find all of my real friends, or else give up entirely on this social networking thing:

There was a time when professors did not outrank music premieres on television. They were buttoned-up authority figures, like the legendary fictional Professor Kingsfield, portrayed by John Houseman in “The Paper Chase.”The personal lives of professors could only be imagined from the sparse clues of clothing, handwriting and the contents of offices.

These days, the clues are usually digital and are broad invitations to get to know the person behind the Ph.D. It is not uncommon for professors’ Web pages to include lists of the books they would take to a deserted island, links to their favorite songs from bygone eras, blog posts about their children, entries “written” by their dogs and vacation photographs.

While many professors have rushed to meet the age of social networking, there are some who think it is symptomatic of an unfortunate trend, that a professor’s job today is not just to impart knowledge, but to be an entertainer.

Certainly, professors have embraced the Internet since its earliest days, using it as a scholarly avenue of communication, publication and debate. Now it is common for many to reveal more personal information that has little connection to their work.

Some do so in hopes it will attract attention for a book or paper they have written; others do so inadvertently, joining Facebook to communicate with students and then finding themselves lured deeper by its various applications.

Many, though, say that by divulging family history and hobbies, they hope to appear more accessible to students.

Nate Ackerman, a lecturer in mathematics at the University of Pennsylvania, whose Web page includes information about his wrestling achievements and photos of him with his cats, agreed. “It’s better when your professor’s human,” he said.

Some scholars suggest that the need to present oneself so chummily is indicative of student demands. Sam Gosling, a psychologist and an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin, who has about 300 students on his MySpace page, said there are students today who think professors are not doing their jobs unless they convey information in zany, interactive ways.

But there are those who prefer to be more opaque, at least in cyberspace. “I can see it if somebody’s using a Web page to store syllabi and articles and store biographies, store vita and that’s fine,” said Stephen Eric Bronner, a political science professor at Rutgers. “But just to say ‘I shoot pool’ or ‘I play poker,’ this kind of thing, what does it really mean? You humanize yourself in front of your students. You don’t have to do it through that.”

There are many reasons professors have embraced the Web and other media to reveal more of themselves. Mr. Gosling, whose studies include personality and virtual environments, noted that people are far less formal in all areas of life. “Twenty years ago, many fewer professors would have been wearing jeans and sneakers to work,” he said.

It is also possible, he added, that some professors are doing online what they have long done in their offices: displaying family photos and personal artifacts, decorating with posters, literally keeping their doors open.

Mr. Friedman of mtvU said it is the nature of the age. “I think it’s part of this increased transparency,” he said.

Paging Eszter Hargittai. And Danah Boyd. I wonder, what would Eszter/Danah think? (I always wonder, whenever I read a social networking/web 2.0 article, WWE/DT?).

Although Prof. Bridget Crawford has a sensible perspective on the utility of social networking sites. But it sounds like she uses it the way most professionals use LinkedIn, not the way most grad students (i.e, future profs) use Facebook.

I should really delete my accounts, unless deleting every wall post and untagging every picture will do the job in rendering my profile Too Little Information.

Incidentally, TD "doesn't believe" in Web 2.0. He's still old school tech.

What do you think?