Service Interruption: Social Media in Academia

Curator's Note

In this short comedy video by Tim Price, he presents a stereotypical professor (complete with pipe and typewriter) as he fulfills his "service" requirement in academia. An invisible rule in most academic positions is that a professor (regardless of job status) must engage in teaching, researching, and a third requirement called "service"—which is just as vague and ambiguous as it sounds. Most service requirements are social engagements, such as going to conferences, volunteering for committees, and attending department meetings. But these service roles, as the video points out, have expanded into the online realm. Sending a Tweet to your followers (and indeed, obtaining these followers in the first place) can now be seen as part of this required service work. After the stereotypical professor types out a Tweet on his typewriter, he gives it to a grad student to update, and then bikes to a conference in San Francisco. The fragmented way the professor handles service technology is meant to be humorous—obviously—but it also points to a fundamental disconnect between the olden days of tenured professors and our current adjunct crisis. Though adjunct professors are not paid for their service work—and therefore don’t go to department meetings—they are still judged by their engagement within a broader, social academic world. This has led to a mass social media hustle for academics, paving the way for certain academic superstars like Kevin Gannon (@thetattooedprof). These academics have become popular outside the academy, and because of this, now have a better chance of being taken seriously inside the academy. But for those who have recently graduated, how successful they are at the social media hustle may make the difference between a contract job or a tenure-track position—or maybe even the difference between any job at all. In a labour market that is already highly exploitative, encouraging academics to take to the online world in hopes of begging for scraps seems as futile as using a typewriter for a Tweet. The emotional labour that goes into this work goes unpaid and is often times invisible—and those tenured profs who are taking advantage of the online marketplace are often using adjunct or grad students to benefit. Service work is some of the most rewarding I’ve done—and I think any academic can do—but it must be supported, not just by Twitter, but the university itself.

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