My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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“Academics: Get to work!”

I’m not sure if i should be offended or excited by John Dvorak’s latest post Academics: Get to work!. On one hand, he argues that “we need social studies about the Net and computers” which is great because i couldn’t agree more. Besides, that sounds like a statement that will keep me in business for a while… But on the other, his example is the lack of analysis on MySpace and blogging. Uhh…. ::raises hand:: There are quite a few academics studying this stuff from all sorts of different angles. People from communications, linguistics, economics, political science, sociology, anthropology… Now, whether or not anyone is listening to them is still an issue up for debate. But at least on a personal note, i would argue that there are a few people listening to me about MySpace and i’ve been rattling on about it since 2003, albeit on a limited basis on my blog in an attempt to not be accused of corrupting my data. And there’s no doubt that i’ve been rattling on about blogging, LiveJournal, Friendster, tagging and quite a few other “Web2.0” schtuff. So, i’m a bit confused by Dvorak’s column. Anyone closer to him have a sense of what that’s about?

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10 comments to “Academics: Get to work!”

  • Anonymous Coward

    Do people still read Dvorak? I thought he stopped being relevant and accurate years ago.

  • rae

    I think the problem is we’re not being listened to, so he sees us at not existing. Frustrating. Also, he’s off in some of his assessment. You can search LJ now on blogsearch engines. And also myspace as the “new” LJ. Not in my opinion, not unless myspace changes a lot. (I’m not talking in terms of people using it, but how they use it). But then, that’s just my opinion.

  • I just glanced at the forum posts related to this article … apparently Dvorak didn’t even try to search Google Scholar (or Google) prior to writing that article. He then rants about not having access to the literature because he’s unwilling to drive to his local university library. In reality, most of the researchers in this area post pre-prints or e-prints of their work which is freely available on the web (like much of your work). IOW: he hasn’t tried, he hasn’t looked, he hasn’t asked for help… Look, it’s not like the researchers aren’t frequently interviewed in the popular media! I’m not sure what to say about all this.

  • I was telling scott earlier, the two-sentence translation of the article is basically: “we need real sociological work on this stuff so people don’t go around and make crackpot unsupported assertions about social practices on the web. i will now make some crackpot unsupported assertions about social practices on the web. MySpace = LiveJournal2!!!!”

    OK, three sentences.

    Also, anyone who says “We need real sociological research done by people who can handle it objectively” knows NOTHING about sociology. (OK, I’m thinking specifically of ethnography here, to be fair.)

    He says a few things that I think are right (yes, more good sociological work, cool, I can get behind that) but I think he’s only right on accident, because that guy is an ignorant PUTZ. Or, as Umberto Eco might say, he’s using moronic reasoning.

  • D

    so i googled livejournal, and lj’s sure came up, so ditto to the previous posts- this Dvorak guy seems just mostly clueless. If parents wanna know what their kids are up to, parents should talk to them- hmm, not down at them

  • JH

    I wouldn’t spend any time trying to figure out Dvorak – there isn’t any insight to be had.

    The last time I read one of his columns was in the early 1990’s when he claimed the French Minitel network was the future of computer-based communication, and this whole internet concept was full of hot air. 🙂

  • B

    What? You mean Minitel is not the future of communic…? You mean: someone lied to me?

    More seriously: I’m an economist, and I don’t feel that I am not listened at (OK, those who have listen so far are the people who actually launched the Minitel, but there are great people; it just took them a while to admit the project of their life was overwhelmed by the American counterpart; now it is done and there are looking for an edge; not sure I’d be of much help, but that’s my job anyway).

    In my mind, people hear about academia, but most of the time somehow distorted: how many people I talked with about my research topic replied: “Yep, the six degree stuff” without really thinking that the key point is how to define “someone you know”—a discussion they immediatly get into, much more easily than the rest of the results I use that them “have heard about” without really grasping the actual meaning. What would give science more attention is to export its clarity, humility, precision rather than a badly digested version of its findings. I would put the blame on journalists for that (but I always put the blame on them).

    Dvorak might be right about not enough academics work on social computing—anyone reading this blog has a biased view. One thing is sure: we need someone to tell him the too few academics working on the subject have noticed e-mails a so passe for teenagers: this is like his second paragraph, and he is just proving his point with such strength! Yup: we’ll apoint you one, ’cause you do need it.

  • pc

    1. Calling it “the Net” = immediate loss of credibility

    2. Dude is scared of MySpace? He’s also probably one of those adults who gets uncomfortable around groups of teenagers in the mall.

    3. Some of my friends who text me the most are over 30.

    4. This is just total poppycock. MySpace in particular has been all over the everything the past few months – I’ve heard you talk about it, danah, but others too (even Siva Vaidhyanathan on The Daily Show, that counts in some weird way). Anyone who claims academics aren’t paying attention to online phenomena hasn’t, as others have pointed out, done even the most rudimentary background check on the subject.

    That said, I think there’s something to the “but no one is listening” feeling. For one thing, academics are less likely to tell you to be scared than other sources, and the news pretty much thrives on scaring the hell out of people nowadays. For another, there’s a difference between tenured academics and academics-in-training. A ton of the work (I speak only for my discipline – this is certainly the case in linguistics) on the internet is being done by grad (and undergrad) students, not professors. I feel like danah, you’re pretty unique in that you’ve established yourself through your work as an expert on the topic, pre-PhD. But in most cases, a media source looking for an “academic” isn’t going to try to interview a grad student; they’re going to look for a professor, and if they can’t find someone with a “, PhD” behind their name, they’ll find someone with another title that seems to carry authority (director, chairman, president, senior analyst, author of ____, etc.).

  • Dvorak is about on par with Ziff Davis pubs when it comes to caring about whether he’s right or wrong. They just find the biggest rock they can and heave it into the pond.

    Just tell him to drink his Kool_Aid.