It’s that time of year when the academics amongst us start lamenting the disappearance of the summer ‘break’ in which we had earmarked the conclusion of umpteen different research and writing tasks, most of which were merely wishful thinking, while the remainder could only have been completed over several lifetimes.
For myself, I have managed to write one chapter of my new book and by the time this post is published, will hopefully have assembled the bare bones of a second one, but only because I wrote much of it last summer as the intellectual counterpoint to the heavy and relatively mindless labour which characterises the typical house-moving nightmare.
So here we are, brushing up against September, with courses to update, induction programmes to plan, new students to think about and of course, my thoughts turn to the wonders of the internet to fulfil my information needs at a few strokes of the keyboard. Unlike some folks, I can remember a time when I didn’t have all the answers at my finger-tips, when I could not type in more or less any question I can think of and instantly get a dozen different or similar answers in less than the time that it takes to find the encyclopaedia on the shelf, let alone thumb its index to find a relevant page. We know the digital world is a force for good and for ill, we know that it provides as much dis- and mis-information as good information and that is an ever-evolving technology. What I also know is that it has made me not only very public but expected to respond to all and every request for time, information and resources at the same speed with which the demands were made, that is, instantly.
I am not at all precious about myself as a public intellectual with a reasonable reputation in my chosen, rather narrow field of gender and media, and mostly gladly respond to the varied requests for my views on this or that subject as part of my duty to my discipline and to the next generation of scholars. What I do object to, however, is being emailed by an undergraduate student, asking me a string of impossibly broad questions, most of which could be answered by reading a book or an article. What I do object to is being addressed as, ‘Hi Professor’, as if this jokey camaraderie is an acceptable introduction to someone is unknown to you personally, to whom you are presumably junior and from whom you want some time out of her day.
Here is another type of enquiry which also makes me bristle:
Hello Karen – Somewhere recently I saw a reference (not sure where, now!) to an article or paper you wrote about sex/ gender, news & politics – and the title was something to do with ‘a skirt’. We’d love to be able to make use of this paper in our undergrad course for young journalists on Media, Gender & Development at xxx. Can you share it with me? Many thanks in anticipation!
Now, if I google myself (which I do occasionally), I can get to a publicly available copy of my CV in less than five keystrokes, so why didn’t the sender of that email do the same? Quite apart from the fact that I haven’t written anything with ‘skirt’ in the title (it’s actually ‘dress’), am I supposed to be flattered? I’m not.
About the author
Karen Ross is professor of media at Northumbria University and describes her professional persona with many labels, including feminist, academic, political and social media activist. She researches and teaches on aspects of media, gender and politics and WLT connect with women who are interested in her work and who might find the outcomes of her research helpful in pushing their own agenda for gender equality forward.
Email: [email protected]