Microblog

of Dr. Steven L. Berg

Forced Familiarity

I was feeling like a bit of an old curmudgeon today when I received yet another e-mail from someone I don’t know, an e-mail that greeted me as “Dear Steve.” While this is better than the messages that begin “Dear Steven” or the even worse “Dear Stephen,” I am troubled by the forced familiarity.

Today’s e-mail was from a student at another college who was writing to me in a professional capacity.  I wonder how he could not know basic professional etiquette and wonder how he could have been failed by his parents and mentors.

I tend to be very formal in professional settings.  And even though I work to be approachable to students, my goal is to be friendly and not friends.  While I would value the friendship of some of my students, such familiarity is something that can wait until they graduate.  It is unlikely that any friendship will develop with those students and I am more than fine with that.

I recognize that I am especially sensitive to formality and fake friendship.  As a result, I am not likely to behave badly to such students, to disregard them, or to somehow punish them for their cheekiness.  But there are people out there who would.

My students are not harmed by my insistence that they approach their lives in a professional manner.  I also know the harm that can come to them if they do not.  I recently wrote to a graduate student who had become too familiar too fast (while getting my first name wrong) that such an error would not cause difficulty in our professional interactions but that it could cost her a job or have some other type of undesirable consequence in the future.

The issue of incorporating digital humanities into undergraduate courses in one I am addressing this semester.  See Steve Kolowich’s “Behind the Digital Curtain”  (Inside Higher Education, 27 January 2012).

I stumbled across Alan Jacobs “Are Research Papers Obsolete?” (Atlantic, 25 January 2012).  It is a very short piece but very well written.  I especially like his thesis that “While new pedagogical aids make sense for students, let’s not forget that professors are desperate to escape the old ways of teaching, too” and his caution that “we professors ought to admit that we very much want alternatives, and are therefore prone to exaggerating the virtues of the new methods and, equally, exaggerating the vices of the old ones.”

The Mystery of the Leaping Fish (1916).  Starring Douglas Fairbanks.  Written by Tod Browning.  A parody of Sherlock Holmes.  Eighteen years later Tod Browning would direct Freaks.

I thought I was going to cite “Davidson at Dartmouth: ‘Distraction is Our Friend‘” in my next blog posting on *Etene Sacca-vajjena* but I finished the draft without using it and don’t see how it could be incorporated during revision.  In spite of the title, I actually like the first part of the video which concerns blogging better than the second part on distractions.  The entire video is only 2:50.

Walt Whitman ‘O Captain! My Captain!’ Poem Animation” is a wonderfully strange animation of one of my favorite poems.

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