What Inspires Us?

An “interesting” article in the Washington Post takes issue with academics who study social networking. I know a lot of people who begrudge the Ivory Tower, but never had I seen it so blatantly attacked and mocked. To quote: “The culture of academia is like a land rush: professors poised around the edges of each new intellectual territory, waving flags emblazoned with theoretical frameworks, making frenzied dashes to stake claim on new topics, ready to shoot trespassers.” Or how about ” The lingo makes you want to give everyone with a PhD an atomic wedgie.” I mean, really.

I’ll admit: academe is a very competitive career choice, especially if you desire the all-coveted tenure-track position (note: I have opted not to go this route, placing me somewhat on the outside of this article’s target range). And it is important in academe to publish, be noticed, and get the grant money flowing your way. But, is that why some are choosing to study social networking? Possibly, but I am not sure how likely that is.

Why do I study the internet? Because it’s cool. It’s fun and interesting. It’s literally changed the entire way we communicate with each other. It’s changed the process of learning. That’s heavy stuff. Sure, MySpace is usually seen as a time waster, but a lot of living goes on in there, other SN sites, and virtual worlds like Second Life. Why shouldn’t the intellectually curious be fascinated by it all?

Maybe I’m being defensive. It’s a natural reaction. Or maybe articles like these make me realize it’s important for people who study certain topics (usually those related to human interactions and phenomena) to be more transparent about their motivations for doing so. We don’t pick topics out of mid-air to study. Sure, sometimes an advisor or mentor steers us in a certain direction, but those of us who decide to enter the 21st grade as it were, choose to be in school that long because something interests us to the point of obsession or passion. Or we have some internal itch to scratch. As my college boyfriend would say “Us Psychology majors are all here for a reason.”

Rarely are we motivated to do what we do just to see our name in the newspaper. And if we are, then we are misguided — there are much easier ways to do that.

Note: Chuck Tryon, an assistant professor of film and media studies at Fayetteville State University blogs about this attack on academics much more eloquently than I.

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