Monday, February 20, 2017

Internet pranks by academics and fake news

Some of you may remember, in 2013, that a ProfHacker writer thought it would be amusing to pull an internet prank in which he pretended to be in danger and disappear, leaving people to worry about him. 

I wrote about that in a post called "Cry Wolf," and in linking to it and rereading it yesterday, my anger at that stupid stunt came back in full force, and I added to that post and to yesterday's.

In comments on the original "Cry Wolf" post, Stacey Donahue, who had convinced me to leave it up, mentioned the #OccupyMLA hoax, so I looked that one up and added this:
Edited to add: here's a link to the #OccupyMLA hoax, otherwise known as more pranksters wasting the time and patience of everyone on a serious issue so that tweets about genuine injustices will be ignored next time when people believe it's a hoax:

All three of these hoaxers dressed it up in theory-speak and tried to spackle it  over with pretensions to doing something useful, but this is the same juvenile mindset that makes 11-year-old boys put firecrackers in mailboxes every 4th of July.  I don't see why we should either excuse it or trust the perpetrators.
And to yesterday's post, I added this:
Forgot to add this: if you want to play pranks with the the sensibilities of people who follow you, be prepared to be unfollowed and to never have anything you say taken seriously again, even though The Chronicle (a more forgiving medium) publishes your stuff. This is one scholar's body of work I never have to read. What credibility would that scholarship have? How would I know he's not making it up, too, a la the Sokal Social Text hoax?

Edited again, because apparently I still am angry about these oh-so-clever bros (see link above) messing with our minds on Twitter and thinking how meta they are for planting lies and making us fall for it: you call it a pomo experiment, but the erosion of trust is real.
Here's my question: why does this make us--okay, me--so angry? I wasn't involved, it was years ago, and there was no personal harm intended.

I think "erosion of public trust" is the key.

We've all seen that Goebbels quotation by now: "“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and or military consequences of the lie." 

We've also seen how the "straight from the horse's mouth" medium of Twitter lends credibility to the most outrageous lies and how charges of "fake news" have become the "lie big enough."

We know that if a certain tweeter-in-chief told his followers that the earth was flat and paved with unicorn tongues, they'd believe it, because he's told them that all voices but his are fake. The technique isn't new. All cult leaders do this. Charles Manson did the same thing.

That's the harm, right there, and that's the cause of the anger.  Mark Twain once said that if a cat sat down on a hot stove once, she would never do it again--but she would never sit on a cold stove, either.

Or, as the old saying goes, once burned, twice shy.

So whether you're posting fake twitter b.s. as a postmodern exercise in meta-tweeting blah blah blah with supreme contempt for the poor fools who are taken in, or whether you're doing it to control a legion of followers, you're still doing the same thing.

You're manipulating people's minds and eroding their trust in a system of information that promotes the common good. You're teaching them to trust nothing, and, in the process, to rely on their gut instincts about what's true--Stephen Colbert's famous "truthiness"--and we have visible daily evidence of how well that's working out.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Tips for social media types

Thank you, sincerely, for all the useful things you all post on Twitter. I mean it. I learn a lot every day about resources that are available. I "like" a lot of things and repost many.

Thanks especially when you choose the most cogent or telling sentence out of the piece before posting a link. It really helps.

But when you say, without explanation, "this is a must-read," it makes me want to set fire to it.

Too many acronyms and abbreviations make my head hurt. There are hundreds of intelligent, literate people on Twitter whom I follow who don't use them, and if you clutter up your message that way, I'm going to skip your message and go on.

A Twitter essay, strung out in 15+ posts of 140 characters each, clogs up my Twitter feed and is annoying to read. Go write a blog post or publish on or lithub like everybody else.

If you set up bots to repeat the same message several times over a 24-hour period, it whispers "spam" to me and everyone who follows you. If you do it for more than a 24-hour period, that whisper turns to a shout.

If you (or your bots, and you know who you are), post just a link to Facebook on your Twitter feed, I'm not going there. Why?

  • First of all, the angry timekeeper guardians that protect me from my own baser timewasting instincts (like Freedom and Strict Pomodoro on Chrome) won't let me go to Facebook, for my own good.
  • Second, FB is a closed system, and I object to having to log in to get a piece of information. Mark Zuckerberg already has enough information about my opinions, habits, and friends and family, thank you very much. 
  • Third, 99.9% of the time it's a piece of self-promotion, which, though not bad in itself, isn't worth the extra clicks and logins. 
Somewhere, if you're tweeting about a conference or event, someone involved ought to give its full name so we mere mortals can tell what you're talking about. Sometimes even clicking on the hashtag doesn't shed any light on the subject. 

Forgot to add this: if you want to play pranks with the the sensibilities of people who follow you, be prepared to be unfollowed and to never have anything you say taken seriously again, even though The Chronicle (a more forgiving medium) publishes your stuff. This is one scholar's body of work I never have to read. What credibility would that scholarship have? How would I know he's not making it up, too, a la the Sokal Social Text hoax?

Edited again, because apparently I still am angry about these oh-so-clever bros (see link above) messing with our minds on Twitter and thinking how meta they are for planting lies and making us fall for it: you call it a pomo experiment, but the erosion of trust is real.

Any tips that I missed?

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

The winter of our discontent

As the long winter of our discontent drags on, I struggle to find something to say here that isn't simply repeating the several million messages of escalating daily outrage in Twitter or that doesn't sound entirely frivolous--like posts about writing.

To do the former is to pile more doom and gloom, and you already have enough of that on Twitter to sink your own feelings ever deeper. People are recommending books that are ever more dystopian both ecologically and politically, as if they figure you can't get enough of "I told you so" misery.

To do the latter is to suggest that you're gleefully dancing on the grave of American democracy, as in people hissing, "Don't you even care?"

Both positions can leave you feeling powerless, despite the actions you've taken (calling legislators, etc.)

What to do?

Well, "fight on," obvs.

But maybe also give a little time and space to some things that help mentally.

One, for me, is contemplating pictures from the past of my region --not to go back there politically (because nostalgia = racism, sexism, and all that, I do get it, I really do) but just . . .  to look and imagine being there, in that time and space, to see if it can be recaptured for --

Two, some writing that's not academic but might be fiction or creative nonfiction, never to be published (since it's neither sci-fi nor dystopian nor memoir) but just to turn the brain over to a different place for a while.

And then I'll write more about writing if everyone promises not to hiss at me in the comments.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Welcome to 2017!

I haven't posted here or over at my Real Name blog in forever--well, a month, anyway, and haven't even been reading many blogs because the news has been so, um, compelling.

I keep saying things like, "But how can that be legal?" and "Doesn't everyone see X?" and "That's insane" and, to my elected representatives, very respectfully, "Hello, I'm a registered voter in your district, and here's my address, and here's what I think about defunding the NEH."

The NEH may not love me, like it doesn't love the 94% of people like me that apply and don't get funded in its elite 6%, but I still love it, because it does good things. Also, Humanities and Democracy.

My thinking is that right now, those who rule politically are basically shaking up a snow globe of ideas so heinous that you wouldn't think they are real. They come fluttering down via the media & Twitter thick and fast,  and we're the little figures inside trying to pin them down to one so we can protest it. But what they really want to do is to use the whole snow globe to smash this country.

Anyway. I'll write a real post soon.

So how was your winter break?

Thursday, December 22, 2016

And a partridge in a pear tree: summing up a sabbatical semester

In the comments on the last post, Gwinne had asked about what I'd done with my time on sabbatical.

Reading all the Facebook, blog, and Twitter posts about people grading sent me into a little tailspin last week, to wit: "What have I done? My sabbatical is half over! I haven't worked on my main sabbatical project! I have failed!" 

This had two results: 

1. Another Facebook break. See you later, Facebookers!

2. Grumpiness and chocolate for a day.

Then I decided to look at the data.

In short: 3 articles submitted, 3 conferences, 1 invited presentation this fall. Since the beginning of 2016, although I wasn't on sabbatical last spring: 7 conferences, 3 grant proposals, and assorted conference proposals. According to the Excel sheet, 73,000 words this year, give or take a few, although some of those are repetitive because they count proposals, though not article or manuscript reviews, letters of recommendation, or tenure reviews.

And a partridge in a pear tree.

How has sabbatical affected this whole process?

1. I wanted to work on those articles and felt desperate to work on them and to get them out, although I'm behind on some promised work. I prioritized the articles, because during my last sabbatical, I concentrated on the promised work and got absolutely nothing else done.

2. Those articles made me feel as though my brain were alive again, and working on them felt fairly transgressive. For one of them, I've already received a rejection, but it was so lovely and encouraging ("excellent but not a good fit for us") that I immediately sent the piece to the journal suggested by the reviewer.

3. In life changes: because of being home, I've gained some weight, yes, and certainly didn't need to. It's my own fault, though, for stress eating when bored or frustrated with writing.

Since the weather now and for the foreseeable future is best described as "ice everywhere," it's tough to get out to do the kind of roaming around on foot that I do during better weather. I'm trying to make more of a commitment to get to the gym and to be mindful about what I do eat.  Also, since I have to cook for the family every night, I can get more of what they like to eat that I'm indifferent to eating (like rice), which will help.

The priority now has to be the promised work, the sabbatical project(s) and associated travel, and getting some motivation back.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Writing inspiration: Reaching for the stars

In the spirit of those old commercials that said "don't hate me because I'm beautiful," I christen this post "don't hate me because I'm on sabbatical." I know it's crunch time for everyone, but it's writing time right now for me.

As Flavia wrote about in her recent posts, I have to keep reminding myself that when you're on sabbatical there's nothing wrong with wanting to write and losing yourself in the pleasure of writing. Being off Facebook helps enormously, in that I'm not getting stabbed by "completion envy" every time someone announces something they've finished or published. (Not a pretty fact, but true.)

Sure, I'm still avoiding some of the things I should be working on, including Big Sabbatical Project, but gathering low-hanging fruit still means that you've gathered some fruit, right?

The project that was 95% done is now sent, so that's two articles submitted this semester. Now, it would be better if they were the ones that are (1) overdue and (2) hugely overdue, but they're out of my hands and the folders are back in the file cabinet rather than on my desk. 

I'm now revising a third, one that seems fairly finished to me and that seems to say "why didn't you send me out for review before this?"  Because, like everyone else who's not on sabbatical, I couldn't put together the necessary consecutive hours of thought time and creative excitement to do the work on it, that's why. During a regular semester, we're all in triage mode all the time (attend this meeting or grade these papers?), but that's not what sabbatical is supposed to be about.

For the two submitted articles, I reached for the stars and sent them to some--what would you call them? aspirational?--journals in which I haven't published before. They might or might not get published, but at least I should get some feedback unless it's a desk-reject. As I've mentioned many times before, I don't have a writing group or trusted writing partner as some of you do, so conference presentations and article reports are about it for feedback.

These three articles are an elaborate avoidance strategy for the real projects, but at least I'm getting somewhere.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016


I was so sorry to see, on Twitter and Inside Higher Ed, a report on the death of Scott Eric Kaufmann, who wrote at Acephalous, Lawyers, Guns and Money, The Valve (remember that?), Salon, and The A.V. Club, among other spaces.  LGM has links to all his collected works on the web.

SEK was a fine blogger and an interesting writer, especially in his visual analyses of film. I hadn't read his most recent stuff on the commercial sites, but he's also very funny, in all the text-based game dialogues he did and the newer Oldman Cats dialogues (except for a preview, inaccessible to me because they're on Facebook, which I'm off for an indefinite period). As Scott McLemee reminds us at IHE, he spoke about blogging at MLA 2006.

Correction: it was Timothy Burke who had a problem with "mere" bloggers. Carry on!At an early stage, he was dismissive of "mere" bloggers who wrote pseudonymously (guilty as charged), but I get that: you have to stake out your claim and he was not afraid to do that. I only met him in person once, very briefly, but he made his presence felt in what we all do here.