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08/07/2013

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I agree that social media is already a part of a philosopher's methodology. I also agree that reasonable self-promotion and networking is part of the show. But yes, I hate self-congratulating bullshit.

Here's a piece I wrote on a more general and on the other hand, very practical level.

http://www.newappsblog.com/2011/08/the-social-media-for-a-philosopher.html

Bob

I guess I am a bit confused. If peole find it irritating to read a particular person's posts, whether it be because they are bragging about job interviews or sex partners or what have you, can't they simply de-friend/unfollow/etc. that person? I do this on occasion, not because I think that person shouldn't be posting what they do, but rather because I don't want to get that information. It is not as if you are forced consume whatever is posted on facebook/twitter/etc so I realyl can't see what hte problem is Many people do want to hear when their friends/relatives/etc. have great successes in their lives, and social media is a quick and easy way to distribute that information. IF you don't want to get it, well, you have control over that...

Andrew

I'm sympathetic with what Bob says above. My friends are all people who I want to see succeed. I rejoice at news of their joy and see Facebook as one means to get such news. I quite like hearing that they're having kids or getting married or publishing journal articles and books or getting jobs or being happy. If I didn't feel that way about someone, I suppose the thing to do would be to unfriend her or to unsubscribe and thus ensure that her posts don't show up in my news feed.

Life's just too short for the whole frenemies thing, no?

Marcus Arvan

Bob: In some cases, I think that is perfectly appropriate. But I also think there is some value in reminding people what is and is not kind, appropriate, etc. I think we owe it to one another to help each other become better people. Do you simply turn your back on friends who behave badly? I suspect not. You try to help them become better people, and sometimes that requires criticizing them. And I think this is true at a broader social level. There is plenty of empirical evidence that people are becoming more narcissistic, more selfish, and less disposed to help others (see e.g. Twenge's work). Should we just sit by and let people become more callous, or should we do something about it, reminding people that some ways of behaving are more appropriate, and more kind, than others? I say the latter.

Andrew: Here's the problem. Facebook, etc., are *not* places where people merely interact with family and close friends -- people whose lives they are personally invested in. As I mentioned in my post, interacting on social media has now become an important part of the *profession*. Something like this was also mentioned in the article I linked to: the vast majority of people a person is "friends" with on Facebook are not *real* friends; they are acquaintances, colleagues, etc. And this is what inspired my comment. Announcing your successes (and then bragging about them) to your friends and family is one thing; doing it to acquaintances and colleagues is just bad taste. It comes across as, "I know many of you out there are not invested in my life at all, but here's how awesome I am." Suppose I were to put up posters all over my university proclaiming my recent successes. I would come off as a self-absorbed schmuck. The same is true, I say, of similar behavior on social media.

Bob

I guess I continue to be confused how posting that you have a job interview constitutes behaving badly, or how this is narcissistic, selfish, or callous behavior. Should I also refrain from posting a relationship change when I enter a relationship because one of my facebook friends might have just broken up and thus be depressed by my news? Or should I refrain from posting photos of myself having fun in the Amazon because some of my facebook friends have long dreamed of going there but can't afford it?

And it seems that there is a difference between posting something on facebook and posting flyers on a university campus. The only ones who can see the social media posts are those who have agreed to be your "friend" or subscribed to your twitter account, etc.

Marcus Arvan

Bob: Here's the difference. As a philosopher, when you post about a job interview, job offer, or publication in the Best Journal in the World, you -- the poster -- can reasonably expect that *many* of your "friends" are pretty darn desperate for that very interview, job offer, or publication in that journal (and have worked very hard for them to boot). If one can reasonably expect that others *will* feel bad, then the action is callous. The relationship and traveling to the Amazon cases are very different. It's hard to know whether any of your "friends" will be jealous of these things. Maybe they will, maybe they won't.

An analogy: would you think it is appropriate to share news of your recent trip to the Amazon with a perfect stranger? Of course! Would you think it appropriate to share your salary, or volunteer that you are the best brain surgeon on the planet? I hope not...If you did, you would be a narcissistic schmuck. But this is just to say that sharing some kinds of news *is* callous and narcissistic and sharing other news *isn't*.

Finally, no, I don't think there's a big difference between posting something on campus and posting something to facebook. As I point out in my post, social media are now a part of *professional* interaction. People on campus are one's friends and colleagues. People on facebook are one's friends and colleagues. Neither is a "private" domain any longer. They are both public. And my very point -- and the point of the article I linked to -- is that it is a mistake to treat people on social media as though they are all your friends. No, they aren't. They are (increasingly) friends, mere acquaintances, and colleagues -- and should be treated as such. If you wouldn't brag of your successes to a random acquaintance, you shouldn't do it on social media either. It's just public self-congratulation, and public self-congratulation is narcissistic and callous.

Rachel

Yes, Facebook (and increasingly, Twitter) is definitely part of being a professional. Not everyone is on social media, but lots of people are, and it's such a useful way to expand your professional network. I've even had a few projects arise out of interactions on FB, and have had more than a few very fruitful philosophical discussions. ...I also have many more friendships and contacts.

On your first thought: TOTALLY disagree. I'm sorry, but people should be allowed to feel good about their success and to share it with friends and well-wishers. We need to stop the "survivor guilt" of the job market: it's hard enough as it is. If you can't be happy for others who're having success, then you have bigger problems than their posting it on FB.

Marcus Arvan

Rachel: I never suggested that people shouldn't be allowed to do it, and I don't think I ever said anything about survivor's guilt. I *don't* think people should feel guilty for their successes -- not in the slightest.

All I am saying is that trumpeting one's successes in a public sphere shows a lack of taste. I'm actually a bit shocked that this is at all controversial. A certain amount of public expressions of humility and restraint are a virtue. Bragging publicly about one's successes is a vice -- a vice that we have a term for: being a braggart.

If people want to share their great salary and career successes with friends and acquaintances, they have every right to do so. But it also -- in my opinion -- betrays a certain deficiency of character.

Carrie

I have to say, I wasn't too impressed with the article linked (and I don't think it's because I do most of the things listed). Sure, I have friends who go overboard and there are definitely people I've blocked from my feed who share every little thing that happens to them. I've probably been guilty of some things myself, too. But...I LIKE reading about the good news of my friends, even those of whom I wouldn't consider good friends (and that includes friends in the profession who I see only at conferences). Facebook isn't LinkedIn or academia.edu; it's primarily social, not professional, so I see its purpose differently. On the other hand, I agree that especially in the middle of a stressful season that a lot of friends are going through (PhD or job market applications, for instance), it is thoughtful not to post a running log of acceptances/ interviews etc. Still, I don't think it's inappropriate to share good news on a limited basis (for instance, once you have accepted a job), and I wouldn't assume someone who does it is self-absorbed (I say this as someone who hasn't ever posted acceptances at all; I have mostly saved that for personal emails, but that's primarily because my grandparents aren't on Facebook).

AE-CP

I think it's in poor taste to post about all your interviews and/or offers, for instance, but not in poor taste to post about accepting a job. And I think that's true regardless of other people's investment in getting what you got. For example, I had a friend in college who posted to Facebook every single time he was admitted to a medical school. I had absolutely no investment in this whatsoever, but I still thought it was obnoxious. I genuinely did want to know where he was going to *go* to med school, but posting all his acceptances did seem like bragging. So I'd want to say something similar about the philosophy job market. I don't think it's in poor taste, or displays a deficiency of character, to post about a job that you've *accepted*. This is an important life event that is going to become public information very soon: why not share it with friends/acquaintances/colleagues? But posting about all the intermediary steps, I agree, is a bit vicious.

Carrie

I had one more thought: perhaps some of the disconnect here is due to the tone of the status posted. I have no problem, for instance, with a friend's status that says, "I've accepted a job at [X University]--look out [city], here I come!" or something to that effect. I would, however, roll my eyes at a status that says, "20 interviews, 5 campus visits, and 3 job offers later, I'm headed to [X University]!" or "It's down to Princeton or Berkeley--how can I choose?!" None of my friends have posted something in the vein of the latter two, whereas I've seen a fair number like the first one (including for friends in the corporate world or non-philosophy academia).

Marcus Arvan

AE-CP and Carrie: Thanks for your comments. I agree: it depends on frequency, context, and manner of delivery. People who post about their successes only on occasion are okay; people who do it constantly are insufferable. People who post about accepting a position are okay; people who post about their twelve APA interviews are insufferable. People who simply announce that they are have a new job are okay; people who announce they have a new job, and then proceed to pat themselves on the back about it and post picture after picture of their new office, door nametag, etc., are insufferable.

It all depends on the frequency, context, and manner. But it's important to note that it *does* depend on these things, and to not be completely obtuse to basic social niceties like these.

Marcus Arvan

Carrie: on your last comment -- EXACTLY right. That's what I had in mind.

Rachel

Marcus: You didn't say that people shouldn't be "allowed," but I think the normative claim that people "shouldn't" is clear. Am I misreading?

No, you didn't say anything about survivor's guilt, but I think sentiments like this post contribute to the phenomenon, and I think that's very problematic. People shouldn't be ashamed of their success, and saying that people shouldn't post on Facebook about their success contributes to that shame. I think that's just a fact of the matter.

Also, I think equating posting on FB with a poster on campus is way over the top. They're not even remotely similar. Also, FB is often the most efficient means to share with one's loved ones: you say just use other means. But what? I'm not going to send out a mass email -- that's more presumptuous than a FB post.

Posting on FB isn't trumpeting one's success (I think you may be begging the question, here). Posting isn't sufficient to count as bragging: there are different ways of expressing the same content. Some of which will constitute bragging, others will not. I think you're lumping the two together, inappropriately.

"Hey bitches, I got SIX APA interviews...suck on THAT!" = bragging and inappropriate. "Hey, I'm just got an interview at the upcoming APA. Wish me luck!" = not bragging.

Marcus Arvan

Rachel: Like I said above, I think it is a matter of degree and context. Do I think people should *never* announce their successes on FB? No. Do I think many, many people -- including some people in the profession -- are guilty of doing it far too much, in manners that betray a certain level of conceit? Yes, I do (though I would agree with Carrie that, thankfully, many people in the profession don't). And I guess we'll just have to disagree on the analogy. I don't think it is over the top at all. I tend to think that the way many people behave on facebook shows a certain lack of class, and that people *think* that there's a difference between bragging on facebook and hanging posters in public places when, in reality, they're basically the same (in both cases, a person is taking to a public forum and engaging in blatant self-congratulation). Anyway, look, I think I probably stated the point in too black-and-white of a manner in the post. I want to make it *clear* that I think that whether something is a narcissistic case of bragging on social media is a matter of degree, frequency, and context. But what I also want to say is that my feeling is that many people run quite afoul of the blurry line. I want to say that there is something classy about showing restraint, keeping things private, and erring on the side of not "showing off" in public. At any rate, I want to say that it is something to think about. For my part, I wouldn't announce on FB that I have an APA interview -- not because of any "survivor's guilt", but, I think, out of a sense that it is a genuine accomplishment to be proud of, but which is more properly shared with family and close personal friends, not something to broadcast to the world.

Daniel

I just wanted to register agreement above with the posters who draw a distinction between posting about interviews/offers, and posting about acceptances. The latter does seem like something that lots of people (even people who aren't your close friends) would genuinely want to know about. If an old friend of mine who I haven't spoken to in a long time is going to be moving to a new town for a new job, maybe near me, I'm happy to hear about it. Maybe I'll message the person about getting coffee, or something. But posting about interviews/offers seems more like pure self-promotion, and much harder to justify. I actually feel similarly about posting about publications. I don't think I judge people who do it, but I don't do it, because it does feel a bit too self-promotey to me.

Kristina Meshelski

Was I the only one worried that posting about my job interviews would jinx them?

Bob

Marcus: I am not sure I agree. If you are making a utilitarian claim that if there are lots of people who are made sad by my news of an interviewer, while only perhaps one by my trip to the Amazon, well, I never was able to accept utilitarianism. If, on the other hand, all that is necessary for my actions to be callous is for me to know (or be reasonably sure) that there is at least one person who would be depressed by my news, this standard certainly seems too high. No baby pictures because I know that someone following my twitter feed is having problems getting pregnant?! Sort of defeats any point of social media, to my mind. If you have a sizable following or large number of "friends" you can be reasonably sure that much of what you post will make at least one person jealous/depressed/etc.

Chike Jeffers

Wow. I found the linked blog post insufferable. I disagreed with almost everything said and found it insanely judgmental - and, indeed, overly self-involved - at almost every turn (one exception being the criticism of unnecessary vagueness).

I think sharing of successes is an essentially important part of social media - I know I certainly appreciate when my Facebook friends do it, and no, not just those I am especially close to. As others here have said, bragging and sharing of success should not be conflated - Rachel gave a very nice example of bragging and the importance of the "suck on THAT!" part is that bragging, understood as a vice, involves esteeming yourself *at the expense of others*.

I would go so far as to argue that bragging in the unethical sense and treating the sharing of personal success as shameful are problematic in similar ways. They both undermine a healthily communal sense of self.

Marcus Arvan

Chike: interesting points. Although I had exactly the opposite experience with the blog post I linked to -- I thought it was spot-on across the board -- perhaps I need to be more open minded. Or perhaps you, I, and Rachel agree a bit more than we might appear to. I don't have a problem with *announcing* accomplishments (e.g. "I'm happy to announce Ethics has accepted my manuscript"), so much as public displays of self-congratulation (viz. "suck on that!"). So, you, I, and Rachel agree on that much. I would, however, go one step further and suggest that a person who *continually* posts visible announcements of all of their successes (e.g. "Another article accepted by PPA!") is engaging in an annoying form of self-congratulation. Anyway, that's where I'm at now. Sharing = okay, but lapsing into self-congratulation is poor form. Let others congratulate you. Thoughts?

Chike Jeffers

Well, I can agree that self-congratulation is a vice. I think we should be careful about defining it, though. Now, as a matter of fact, I wouldn't be put off by someone posting the status you used as an example, but I could see why others would be because I could see how it could be perceived as self-congratulation. The key word here would be "Another." Self-congratulation, I take it, is not simply sharing your success but describing it in ways that indicate an over-inflated ego. If someone posts a new article and adds "They say it is hard to get into top journals but I do it so easily," I think that is a clear example of someone who is unethically self-congratulatory. (Funny enough, I think I might be swayed into perceiving your example as self-congratulation and thus being put off myself if the exclamation mark were to be replaced with a period, lol.)

Now, let's say the person were to have simply said "Yay me!" I get the sense that you might have an issue with that (certainly we know the blog poster would) but I wouldn't, even though it wouldn't be entirely inappropriate to say the person "congratulated" him or herself. "Yay me!" (especially if said by someone early in their career, trying to work toward getting tenure) doesn't, without further context, indicate thinking too highly of yourself, in my view.

But in case there's disagreement over that particular phrase, I think we can use thicker descriptions of the attitudes we're worried and not worried about in order to make the point. So if I feel like someone posting about a success has an attitude of the following sort, I'm not worried: "Life is going well, I am achieving goals I have worked toward, and this feels great - I want others who have positive feelings toward me to know about this so that they can share my joy the way I share theirs when I see things going well for them." On the other hand, if I think the attitude is as follows, I think it would be appropriate to consider what the person said as an unethical form of bragging: "Some of you may think you're hot stuff, but wait til you see what's going on in my life... I'll show you what it really looks like to be successful." And as for self-congratulation, if I get the sense that you're not jumping for joy because you're so delighted to see things going your way but rather sitting with a smug smile because you're pleased to be re-affirmed in your belief that life will always go your way given how great you are... that too will strike me as bad.

Marcus Arvan

Chike: I think I agree with everything you wrote in this last comment. The problem, I think -- at least, this has been my experience -- is that people who tend to post announcements of their successes *tend* to do it a whole lot, and in ways that come off as displaying the latter attitude (the one you object to). I am by no means saying that all people who post announcements are like this (I've posted happy announcements from time to time myself). And so I guess, rather than advocating a strong prohibition on announcements of personal successes, I would maybe advocate that (some) people take more caution than they might otherwise, or "tread lightly." I think this is reasonable. Although there is nothing wrong with drawing attention to one's successes, I hope we can all agree that it's not good to go overboard.

Justin Caouette

Great comment thread and an interesting topic. I was considering blogging about it myself (unintended self-promotion?).

I tend to agree with almost everything Carrie, Rachel, and Chike have said.

A further point worth mentioning is this: Most of us have moved far to embark on our philosophical journeys, and social media (specifically facebook) is a great way (by no means ideal) to stay in contact with everyone. Posting "Finally finished the PhD", or, "got the tt job at X" is a great way to share good news. That will likely be followed by a call to a select few but posting it serves a purpose. Instead of having 50 of the same conversations when meeting at conferences or visiting a place you lived, you share it once. The next conversation--with almost anyone--will regard your feel for the new job rather than "did you score a job". Same goes for bad news.

IMO the posts, on their own, don't seem to indicate that a person is being overly boastful or bragging. Pride is a virtue (arguably).

@Daniel you said "I don't think I judge people who do it, but I don't do it, because it does feel a bit too self-promotey to me"

I'm curious; if you think it would be too "self-promotey" for you to do then how do you hold yourself back from drawing the same conclusion (judgment of sorts) about those who do post in that manner?

Rachel

I'm 100% with Chike here. I also found that blog post insufferable in the extreme.

Marcus Arvan

Rachel and Justin: very interesting. Although I expected some resistance to my post, I have to confess that I expected a lot more sympathy with the blog post I linked to, and the general thought that online self-congratulation/bragging has gotten a bit out of hand. But I guess I'm in the distinct minority. Good to know! :)

Wait But Why

I'm the author of the blog post. Well said. I think you did a better job articulating the point than I did.

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