Aaron Hernandez: What Does It Mean When Academics "Like" Something?


One of the advantages, I suppose, of living now is that we can access “academic” items immediately and participate in a “discourse” about these items, supposedly.

I am not saying I want us to go back to the times when monks illuminated manuscripts to let future generations know exactly how they felt about many things (really, check out, maybe even online, some of these manuscripts) or that we should wait for some poor-hygiene character wearing an outfit worthy of a Three Musketeers movie to bring a message whose seal we must break to decipher the quill-stroked response to a quarrel we are having about a Petrarchan sonnet with a colleague living across a few mountains. I am also not suggesting that “back then” the absence of a smartphone always provided time to think before responding; history is littered with ale-swilling persons having exchanged daggers or other instruments of serious sharpness before someone could say, “Let’s mediate.”

What I am wondering about is this business of “like,” to “favorite” something with a star that lights up, or to push someone’s comment up or down in a list of comments. It all happens so quickly, as if watching a gunfight in a western movie and being disappointed by its rapidness, because it was simply too fast.

I still hesitate to “star” something. I now have gotten to the point I feel less conflicted about “liking” something. In that part of my life that does not involve my digits and a screen, I know immediately if I like or dislike something. But what am I supposed to do with all that is presented to me as part of academic discourse or discourse aimed at academics in a two-dimensional world of thumb-smudging and smudges?

For example, I saw online that a University of Florida calendar is featuring Aaron Hernandez, a player accused of murder two times (one of them a double-murder), and noticed many people liked this, even had “favorited” the text with the photo of the calendar. Do these digital tracks mean that people like that Hernandez is accused of being a murderer? That he is Mr. July in a calendar with a Gator on it?

Even reading the text does not necessarily offer a clue to help one like or dislike the item. Is one supposed to like that a university made a mistake but really did not make a mistake in licensing, supposedly, the image of Hernandez, which was supposedly approved before any of these allegations came up? And if one favorites this item of “academic” news, does that mean one is expressing Schadenfreude deluxe for all to see on their little screen, wherever these participants of a discourse are?

Just how academic is this discourse? Academics I know will like on Facebook what most people appear to like. Post a picture of something sexy, delicious food, or a cute animal, and up the thumbs go. Ph.D. or fourth grade education, homo sapiens responds to what likely those who crawl on all fours like.

Increasingly more sensationalist headlines and other items of entertainment are placed on websites that draw academics and the liking and favoriting carries on merrily, as if our thumbs were detached from our brains, with the exception of the reptilian part.

I am reminded of Pavlov and Skinner, and see us like dogs or pigeons do our bit like trained animals perfect for the task of generating page clicks. But “academic discourse”? We have all read some comments that may feature decent vocabulary but essentially are the equivalent of someone telling another to #&^@ off.

When I see that, if I click to move that person’s entry up, does that mean I like that he tells the other person to #&^@ off? Do I like the way he told the other person to #&^@ off. And so on. There are a number of possibilities of understanding and misunderstanding.

With apologies to Marshall McLuhan, the medium and the message are one thumbprint smear somehow and I don’t think using a cloth for optics to clean will clear much up.

3 thoughts on “Aaron Hernandez: What Does It Mean When Academics "Like" Something?

  1. An interesting fact is that in many online venues one need not “join” the blog, etc. to “like” a posting or comment but one must be “signed in” to dislike it with a thumbs down. As if somewhere there are online police keeping track of those who refuse to join the masses cheering the Fuehrer in the stadium.

    The AAUP venue, however, doesn’t even offer that possibility of choice. At the AAUP Academe blogs one may only “like” and move on, Politburo-style. And, even more nonsensically, the reader is invited to “be the first to like this” — totally oblivious to the double-entendre, so to speak. Thus, the blog host is correct to signal the absurdity of these practices in an academic mode.

    • WordPress provides themes, and some of the elements within a given theme are controllable and others not. The “like” buttons and accompanying text are not something that most users want to change and are generally not adjustable elements.

      I don’t believe that we have ever not approved a comment that has been critical of a post. Some of my posts against guns on campus have led to a deluge of hate messages from pro-gun groups. But I still approved any that said anything that was at all substantive–that attempted to do anything beyond intimidating me with obscenities and threats, suggesting that I ought to relocate to an anti-American country of my choosing, or raising questions my sexual orientation (which has caused me to wonder why it is assumed that gays and lesbians don’t own guns–because if I were gay or lesbian, I’m fairly certain that I’d want to be armed). So one of the issues is that the posts are generally being written by academics, but they are being read and can be commented on by anyone with an Internet connection.

      But, more than that, some sort of approval mechanism is clearly needed because for every on-topic comment that we receive, we receive several dozen to several hundred spammed “comments.” Some are commercial messaging, but most are either inane (“I will certainly bookmark this valuable blog” or “Your blog may not be readable in such and such browser”) or simply typographical gibberish, sometimes in other alphabets. I am not quite sure what the point of spamming such comments is other than to create a mess, but within a week, such spam would overwhelm the blog. Beyond the tens of thousands of spammed comments that the filter has caught over just the first six months of this year, there are fifty to a hundred spam comments that get past the filter each day.

  2. I “like” posts because they have made me think or have moved me emotionally–because they have expressed an idea or approached a topic in some unusual way, because they have provided supporting detail that is informative, or because they have presented an argument in a clearly sincere and committed (if sometimes irreverent) way.

    If it is as important to read as to write, then as readers we have something of an obligation to provide feedback that stimulates good writers to keep writing.

    When I was hospitalized earlier this year and then laid up for several months at home, I received many more cards, e-mails, and phone calls than I ever would have anticipated receiving. I have always been fairly good about sending an e-mail or picking up a phone. I am now trying to become better at sending cards and personal notes. Having been on the receiving end, I recognize how even a small gesture of concern can impact the recipient much more profoundly than the sender would ever think.

    I think that there is some analogy in the back and forth between readers and writers. We know that this is the case with our students, but we seem sometimes to think that meaningful response matters less to more practiced, if not professional, writers.

    In fact, it is nice to know that you are being read even if certain readers don’t agree with the opinions that you are expressing. For instance, some of my posts to this blog seem to have gotten fairly substantial notice on Far Right blogs–often with the concession that the analysis was cogent even if the conclusions reached could not, in their view, be more wrong.

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