Technophobia: Internet Anxiety
by Dr. Sharon Short
I belong to the last generation of people who are amazed by what can be accomplished online. I have located out-of-print books, purchased shoes in hard-to-find sizes, found cheap airfares, downloaded articles from obscure journals, conversed with people on other continents, participated in classes, searched for jobs, reconnected with old friends, edited dissertations, and completed a host of other tasks—all using this astonishing resource called the internet.
On the other hand, because for most of my life this powerful tool did not exist, I am also part of a generation who suffers from technophobia. Our generation is quite anxious about the implications of using the world-wide web. The very same technology that enables me to find out so much from around the world also allows anyone in the world to find out a great deal about me. It makes me nervous to realize that the products I buy, the websites I peruse, even the Facebook messages that I post, are all noticed, recorded, and used to market new products and services to me. Not only that, but the information that this vast, complex system called the internet accumulates about me never goes away—it is always immediately accessible to anyone who knows how to look for it.
Having experienced the incredible advantages of the internet, however, I do not expect that I will ever go back to living without it. In fact, I am so excited about its educational potential that I am building a career as an online instructor. I have made peace with my “internet anxiety” by accepting one simple reality, namely, that the internet is a completely public venue. It feels deceptively private and anonymous, but as long as I recognize that nothing—absolutely nothing—that I do by means of the internet can be kept hidden, it will probably not hurt me. My solution is to transmit online only the same sort of information that I would be willing to see printed in a magazine, mentioned in a newspaper, reported on a television show, or announced on a marquee. These examples are public media with which we have all grown up, and we have a clear sense of what would be wise and appropriate to publicize in these sorts of ways. The relative newness of the internet, combined with its illusion of secrecy, tempts people to relay information about themselves and say things about others that they would never consider publicizing through more traditional channels, and therein lies the danger. Recognizing that the internet is as communal as a billboard but much more widely accessible frees me to use it prudently as the worldwide public information forum that it actually is.
by Dr. Sharon Short
I was shocked and horrified recently to learn that a highly esteemed academic colleague of mine had been arrested. Ripples of damage continue to spread to the institutions where he taught; the professional associations to which he belonged; the publishers of his writings; and students, faculty, administrators, and friends with whom he worked. If he is convicted, his career will be destroyed and his reputation ruined. Much is still unknown and the legal processes have barely begun, but even in these early stages it appears that illicit internet use brought about this dreadful downfall.
This tragedy serves as a sobering reminder that not one of us is immune to the insidious lure of sin. If “the last person on earth” whom we would expect to commit a particular crime is found entangled in it, then we too could fall. Therefore we must all be aggressively intentional about avoiding even the appearance of evil and about building reliable warning and accountability structures into our lives.
Specifically with regard to online practices, many of us are still far too naïve about the potential dangers of internet involvement and about the addictions that can result. We might think that we are safe because we are perusing sites and sending messages from the seclusion of our own homes or offices. The reality of course is that, in spite of all those “privacy policies,” the internet is anything but private. It quite literally is a worldwide web through which anyone in the whole wide world can potentially find out what any other person has been up to. The obvious application is to never view, post, download, “like,” or forward anything that we would not be equally willing to print in a newspaper, preach from a pulpit, paint on a billboard, or publish in a book, nor to say or do anything via the internet that we would not want anyone else in the whole world to know about. Recognizing the internet for the totally public information-sharing forum that it is will go a long ways toward deterring usage that could lead to immoral or illegal behaviors.
Many of us are also unaware of the excellent safeguards that are currently available. It is possible to install software on our personal and work computers that records and reports to our designated accountability partners every image we view and every word we write. The prudent move of voluntarily submitting to internet accountability and surveillance software now—well before we encounter any actual temptation—could spare us, our families, and our associates incalculable grief in the future.
Self Promotion or Sharing Knowledge?
by Dr. Sharon Short
Most people would agree that individuals who brag about themselves are obnoxious. “Showing off,” “tooting your own horn,” even “calling undue attention to yourself” are generally deemed unacceptable social behaviors. Descriptors such as “blowhard,” “loudmouth,” and “windbag” come to mind, and none of them are complimentary. This negative sentiment about “putting oneself forward” can create considerable dissonance for someone who is seeking employment and is suddenly expected to become an aggressive self-promoter.
In his book Become a Recognized Authority in your Field in 60 Days or Less, author Robert Bly (2002) describes the marketing of oneself as establishing one’s “guru status,” and in his book he outlines a strategy for positioning oneself as a “guru” in a particular field. In Bly’s words, “Gurus are not born, they are ‘manufactured’ through self-marketing and promotion.” (p. 21).
Many job seekers might find such strategies odious. We do not want to be the kind of people who boast about themselves! Fortunately, in this situation a subtle shift in perspective can make a world of difference. Bly explains that what he means by a “guru” is someone who has gained significant mastery over a specific discipline, and is able to communicate this knowledge “in a clear, understandable, and useful manner to a well-defined target audience” (p. 9). Bly goes on, “You build your reputation as an expert in your field by giving your knowledge away [emphasis added] in a variety of forums—articles, books, seminars, speeches, newsletters, e-zines, Web sites, and information products” (p. 41). If building a professional reputation in order to gain a desirable position can be redefined as sharing one’s useful knowledge with others, then the odium of “marketing oneself” is greatly diminished.
I can enthusiastically endorse the premise of becoming an expert in a well-defined niche and then sharing that knowledge in many different ways. If that is what a guru is, then bring it on! What I can not get excited about “selling,” “marketing,” or “promoting” myself. I am not a commodity to be bought and sold, nor do I want to be regarded and treated as such. Sharing my knowledge, though, is an altogether different and more positive mission. That sounds like something I would be glad to do.
Line of Research
By Dr. Sharon Short
In the course of my doctoral studies, I observed a variety of attitudes toward their dissertations among professors, authors, and colleagues. One of my instructors, for example, commented that after she finally finished her dissertation she wanted to take it outside and bury it. The author of a book I read remarked that she wished the library copy of her dissertation could have been bound on all four sides. Some—perhaps many—doctoral graduates set their finished manuscripts on a shelf with a grateful sigh of relief and move on with their lives.
For others, however, dissertation studies produce a more profitable outcome: for these scholars, the monumental amount of work that they poured into literature reviews, investigations, and analyses endures in an ongoing journey of learning, writing, and teaching about their area of research. Another professor I know, for example, regularly uses data from her research in the master’s courses that she teaches, and she involves her students in collecting new data using the interview protocol that she designed for her investigation. Similarly, the instructor of my qualitative research methods class described how she continued to build on the research that began with her dissertation. This professor encouraged us to establish a “line of research” based on our dissertation work to which we intended to continue contributing all our lives.
A great deal depends, of course, upon what subject one chooses to research. I am blessed to still be fascinated by the topic of my research, and to still enjoy working with this subject matter. My dissertation has already provided me with meaningful content to present in the form of papers at two different conferences, in addition to a research report already published in a journal and a chapter in a newly-published book. I look forward to developing and extending my findings into a book that will benefit a larger audience than the small sphere of scholars who currently have access to it.
Not that the journey so far has been completely straightforward and linear! The dissertation topic that I finally investigated was my third attempt. I entered my Ph.D. program with one research issue in mind, which I continued to pursue for most of the first year. In my second year I jettisoned that idea completely and took off in another direction, for which I wrote a 75-page dissertation proposal before concluding that that topic was not tenable either. The third try, finally, had that proverbial “charm” that has kept me engaged and intrigued ever since.
In short, doctoral student, follow your heart, keep looking for something that excites you for the long haul, and don’t be afraid to change direction if necessary. Certainly it is important to get that dissertation done, but it is even better if its completion inaugurates a lifetime of fruitful scholarship.