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.