This post is the fourth part in a series and continues from here.
A favorite pastime of both friends and family is career counseling with oso. It always starts with a emptyish complement: “you have such a natural talent for …” and then gets right to the point, “don’t you think it’s time for you to start doing something like …”
Recently, the top two suggestions have been journalism and academia. This, to me, seems pretty obvious. It’s clear that I enjoy researching topics and sharing my discoveries. It’s what I do on here, on Global Voices, San Diego Blog, MTYBlogs, and in conversation with my friends pretty regularly. The advantage of journalism over Academia is that you’re able to research more topics, travel more freely, and freelance. Academia’s pros include job security, a wealth of resources, expertise in a narrow field (also a con), and interaction with (young, female, just kidding, sorta) students.
But one must look beyond just the pros, cons, and job descriptions of journalists and professors. Journalists work for publications. What is the objective of a publication? To keep society informed? (If you said yes, you’re reading something much better than what I read). The objective is to make money. These are businesses. Look for a job at your local paper … sales and advertising gigs are all you’re gonna find. What about universities? They’re objective is to arm the future generations of our world with the critical reasoning that has brought about all the “amazing advancements” of modernity right? To gain insight through research and spread it through teaching right? Not even close. A university markets a product (knowledge) and goes to great measures to keep it exclusive from all except those willing to pay outrageous tuition fees. They do this not only by safeguarding their digital libraries (most universities in Mexico won’t even let you on their campuses), but also by inventing a complex language to describe what are otherwise simple concepts which requires an ivory tower initiation that takes two or three very expensive years.
Which is why universities don’t want their faculty giving away their product for free on the internet. Just look at what this Humanities professor has to say when advising job-seeking academics:
The pertinent question for bloggers is simply, Why? What is the purpose of broadcasting one’s unfiltered thoughts to the whole wired world? It’s not hard to imagine legitimate, constructive applications for such a forum. But it’s also not hard to find examples of the worst kinds of uses.
Worst of all, for professional academics, it’s a publishing medium with no vetting process, no review board, and no editor. The author is the sole judge of what constitutes publishable material, and the medium allows for instantaneous distribution. After wrapping up a juicy rant at 3 a.m., it only takes a few clicks to put it into global circulation.
The content of the blog may be less worrisome than the fact of the blog itself. Several committee members expressed concern that a blogger who joined our staff might air departmental dirty laundry (real or imagined) on the cyber clothesline for the world to see. Past good behavior is no guarantee against future lapses of professional decorum.
What he’s talking about is the fear of turning professors into people. The acceptance that professors get things wrong too, that they’re not infallible, and that (obviously), like all people, they have their character flaws. Now, I’m all for a “vetting process, review board, and editor”: it’s called the comments section. I learn more from the comments on this blog than I ever learned in my 5 (wait, was it 6?) years of college.
A commenter on this post picks out the real inspiration of the article:
I wonder if the problem lies in the title for this piece. It’s called, “Bloggers Need Not Apply,” but as you rightly hint, it’s really intellectual freedom (with the should-be-old-by-now notion that the personal is political), rather than blogging, which is at issue, here.
I must admit, I do often wonder why Xolo never writes what could be called a “position” on anything academic on his blog. Research overload seems likely, but fear of unvettered publication could also be at hand.
Recently, I wrote to Mark Dery, a cultural theorist at NYU, observing that between he, Clay Shirky, and Jay Rosen, NYU has quite the monopoly on internet research. Dery replied that the three really don’t have much in common at all (Dery: culture, Shirky: social systems, Rosen: journalism), which I countered was exactly why they have such a monopoly – they’ve got all aspects of today’s internet covered except for business. I added that I consider each of them my own professors by reading their blogs and without paying NYU’s skyscraping tuition. His reply? “Smart man.”
I can’t help but wonder if there would be any advantage at all in actually taking classes from the professors at the university. Sure, personal interaction is a plus, but Rosen I’ve already talked with over beers and I’m sure Dery and Shirky are just as approachable … paying $30,000 a year or not.
It is, however, worth pointing out that Dery, Shirky, and Rosen have their [blogging] reputation, in part, because of their academic position. In fact, most “A-list” bloggers have impressive Curriculum Vitaes which are read from conference after conference. As an author on Global Voices I was asked to write a short biography about who I am and what I’ve done. Compared to my colleagues – former CNN correspondent, Non-profit program director, CEO, , IT company founder, and a handful of (mostly Harvard) law students – I obviously didn’t have much in comparison. But what I did write wasn’t included. Instead they came up with this. Though I haven’t asked, I assume it’s because my professional resume isn’t exactly impressive. Even in the blogosphere, image over content remains.
My Dream Job
The irony of being constantly grilled on what I’d like to do with my life is that I’m doing exactly that right now. Though making fun of blogging never seems to get old for people who obviously spend most of their day surfing for porn and watching cartoons, I happen to believe that what we’re doing at Global Voices right now is extremely important. Or to use that favorite bloggers’ cliche: revolutionary. Which is probably why it’s getting some much deserved attention in the mainstream media, including this recent article in Wired. It talks about how blogging is taking off in Cambodia and how one guy is literally going around the country and showing people how to blog as well as developing a Khmer language blogging tool. Whoopdy doo you say, which is fine, but for someone who is sincerely interested in bridging the communication gaps between people on this world of ours, it really is revolutionary for me to be able to read the thoughts
of some geeky kid in Cambodia.
There are so many unheard voices out there that deserve attention. Global Voices is helping get them out there, but the real challenge is making people care. We’ve got links to way more news stories than any typical news consumer could ever manage. Content is no longer the problem. But how do you make someone care about what is going on in other parts of the world. That is the real challenge and it’s really what I’d like to pursue for the rest of my freckled days until they do.
What’s in it For You?
Such a great song by the Walkmen. And also a very fair question. When people come up with answers like, “I just want to make the world a better place,” I die laughing. It’s such bullshit. People don’t want to make the world a ‘better place,’ they want to make it their type of place. (don’t get too philosophical here Abo) Which is why both HP and I spend time trying to convince our readers that we are right. So what do I get out of writing on a this half-ass weblog and working various temporary jobs while skipping around the world instead of working for a well-established publication or well-regarded university (“which both pay!” scream my relatives)? Well, part of it is my personality. If I were to write a story (or apply for a research grant) on a subject which was obviously very important, but not “sexy” enough, I’d gladly shove five fingers up their anus (the physical gesture is necessary here) and walk out. (which is exactly what Rebecca MacKinnon did … well, I’m not sure about the five fingers)
Recognition is also part of it. Like apophenia says, a blogger makes a brand of him/herself. As I type, I continue branding.
Unlimited freedom to write about whatever might happen to inspire me rather than whatever might happen to sell copies is also huge. Plus, I’m such a disaster in bureaucracies. I become a completely facetious fatalist that cares about nothing. Which is fun for a while – Moreno continues to be my hero – but, long term, it’s not good for my freckles.
Cuba’s next. Really.