Pogo Squared

Only in academia could not paying attention and gossiping– often nasty gossiping– be dignified with the official sounding label “back channel communication.” Marc Parry (“Conference Humiliation: They’re Tweeting Behind Your Back”) told one story in the Chronicle of Higher Education last month, and then Joe McCarthy (“The Dark Side of Digital Backchannels in Shared Physical Spaces“) went into much more detail on his blog a few days ago.

I was particularly struck by McCarthy’s piece, in which he lists his unhappiness with back channels at conferences in this way: “the non-democratization of attention; our addiction to gossip; the unhealthy cycle of manipulation for stimulation; and the prejudice, intolerance, bigotry, and power promulgated by homophily in networks … to name a few.” What so funny (not in a ha ha way) is that this list describes the dark side of academia in general, made manifest via tweets.

It’s the dark side of our culture, too, and the crassness promulgated in several segments of commercial culture, a kind of narcissistic crudeness that seems to substitute for what was once thought to be wit and charm. It’s the Coulterization of public debate; ugliness for money, and your chicks for free. It’s fascinating that academic culture, once so fiercely independent, should reflect such a profoundly unreflective engagement with commercial culture and discourse.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and Smarthinking.com. I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol] writinginthewild.com

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