INTERNONYMITY

A colleague raised an interesting point not terribly long ago.

Everybody googles everybody, right? If you're an employer seriously considering hiring someone, unless you happen to be 65 or Amish it's likely that you'll see what Mr. Internet has to say about John or Jane Doe. This is why many people cloak themselves in the anonymity that the internet allows. If you want your very own website about your regular conversations with extraterrestrials, it is reasonable to expect that you might not want the boss to know that you are insane. So John Doe becomes "John in Texas" or "AlienGuy01", author of AlienBlog.net. If you feel like becoming a regular commenter at PissInMyMouth.com, you wouldn't post as "Mary Jones, Public School Teacher from Pittsburgh" would you? Of course not. It's common sense.

Mike, the guy who used to live here and now lives here, politely asked that I not use his last name when I re-designed the site. Another regular poster, who may get involved with my exciting new side project BillKristol.net (coming soon!), was explicit about the work-related need to conceal his identity. One of the members of my band is, for identical reasons, quite enthusiastic about not using his real name. These examples are the norm. In a society in which a lot of people take offense to language or subject matters more risque than a Leno monologue, it makes perfect sense.

Which raises an interesting question: why don't I take advantage of internet anonymity? Blogging is particularly dangerous for academics – at least this kind. People have been denied tenure over blog-related controversies. And as my colleague recently pointed out, it's entirely possible that members of hiring committees google me and find this site. Then 90 seconds later my file is in the trash. Maybe that's paranoid. Both academics who blog and the Chronicle of Higher Ed insist that it happens. To wit:

Job seekers who are also bloggers may have a tough road ahead, if our committee's experience is any indication.

You may think your blog is a harmless outlet. You may use the faulty logic of the blogger, "Oh, no one will see it anyway." Don't count on it. Even if you take your blog offline while job applications are active, Google and other search engines store cached data of their prior contents. So that cranky rant might still turn up.

I don't know how much stock to put into such talk. Regardless, I would seem to be an excellent candidate for keeping things incognito. Students, for example, could find this website and, with little effort, assemble a Magna Carta-length list of material for formal complaints.

I've certainly thought about all of these issues and considered the potential consequences of my daily bursts of profanity and dick jokes. Here's the thing. I don't give a shit. I'm not ashamed of anything I've ever said or thought in this context and I don't really care who wants to read it. Moreover, I have two big issues with the academic bias against blogging.

First, it only seems to be a problem when someone has a blog that offends the Talk Radio crowd. It's OK for Glenn Reynolds to essentially be wrong about everything and distort reality to fit his shrill talking points so long as he doesn't tick off David Horowitz and Glenn Beck. Hell, it's OK for John Yoo to be on faculty while simultaneously, you know, being a war criminal but heaven forbid someone has a blog where they use words like "fuck." Lying and distorting the truth are acceptable. The line must be drawn at the moral evil of swearing, though.

Second, this anti-blog bias represents a very petty and narcissistic side of some tenured (hence older) academics. They react very angrily and with considerable bitterness to the idea that anyone could care about what one of their underlings (grad students, untenured assistant profs, or, god forbid, even an undergrad) has to say. I have a modestly successful blog with a consistent base of readers now in the high triple digits. Believe me, that really bugs people who have dedicated their careers to creating a huge academic output that absolutely no one cares about. Academics publish incredibly compartmentalized work in journals no one reads. In a month more people read a decent blog than will ever read the output of most tenured academics in a lifetime. And most importantly, the blogging format circumvents the gatekeeper function of the academy. The idea that a lowly grad student could write anything without the Elders first giving it a stamp of approval…well, it's practically academic heresy.

So, screw it. At this point I'm in way too far to backtrack anyhow. Regardless, I take solace in the fact that I am a flat-out terrible academic and no one would hire me sans blog either. This thing makes me happy, and if I'm going to be unemployed or driving a bus for a living I might as well do what makes me happy.

10 thoughts on “INTERNONYMITY”

  • There's nothing wrong with being a terrible academic. Every day that I spend surrounded by them is another day that I plan on doing something, ANYTHING, else with my PhD other than joining such an insular fraternity that has a long and distinguished history of eating its own. You're considering driving a bus; I'm seriously considering mowing fairways again, as it was the single most enjoyable job I've ever had.

  • My question is:

    If researchers and academcs want a huge audience, don't research the mytotic characteristics of fruit flies.

    I always thought the driving force of acemida was not a hit count, but actually making a contribution to the pool of knowledge in that noble pursiut of increasing humanities understanding of the world/universe and our place on it/in it.

    I guess maybe I was wrong…

  • That is the goal, BK, but there are still some very large egos involved. People who get to the top of the pile want to be considered experts and want to be listened to.

  • I'm thinking about this as well today – there was a shooting by a cop on the Bay Area's train (BART) that is a big deal here. Everyone is trying to find out about the cop, and someone was able to google out his father's posting on a variety of right-wing blogs:

    http://sfist.com/2009/01/12/todd_mehserles_angry_internet_histo.php

    The angry anti-Kerry 2004 stuff is there, but also very personal, and to us equally random, stuff about the success of his anger-management therapy. It's an odd way of constructing someone's biography.

  • Separately, there are stories floating around about how Alberto Gonzales is unemployed – and perhaps unemployable; he can't even find a law firm who will let them put a former Attorney General's name on the wall. (The stories link from wikipedia)

    John Yoo already had tenure though before he joined Bush. Which proves that once you have tenure, you can do ANYTHING. Including being a war criminal.

  • Hell, if any of my POLS professors wrote a blog like this I'd sign up for their classes in a heartbeat. There just aren't enough academics who are fed up with the system and are willing to speak up about it.

  • Well, the market is probably going to move slowly for Gonzales. He may see more action if he manages to escape indictment.

    I'll tell you one thing John Yoo's tenured ass can't do: leave the country. The list of countries with standing indictments and warrants for his arrest if he ever sets foot on their soil is pretty lengthy.

  • Wouldn't there be a flip side to this coin? Maybe an employer or student that viewed this site would really like it and the site would be a positive on your side. The fact that your site is doing well is evidence of this. Trying to please everybody is a losing battle.

    I don't like the fact that speech and ideas can be suppressed due to the possibility of them being viewed negatively by an employer, colleague, etc. We're talking about choosing between a livelihood and freedom of speech (a pretty shitty choice). I, personally, like food and shelter. Is it legal for an employer to discriminate in this manner?

    What would an academic have to say about Faulkner writing As I Lay Dying while he was shoveling coal into a furnace or Quentin Tarantino making Pulp Fiction without "proper" training? It reminds them of the classic Woody Allen quote and puts them in their place to an extent: those who can't do teach, and those who can't teach teach gym. I don't think academics like being reminded that they are standing on the shoulders of giants and are often times not talented enough to be popular or actually create a work of art. They also don't like being reminded that somebody (or something) outside of academics can be talented or provide knowledge, which negates their purpose to an extent.

  • I find it sad that a man such as yourself, who could teach the phone book and make it insightful and entertaining, has to choose being good at his job and speaking his mind or being successful at his career and censoring himself.

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