Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Being an expert, sort of

One of the weirder aspects of this job is that sometimes you get called from out of the blue and asked to offer “expert” commentary on topics that—more often than not—you have just a passing familiarity with. This happens because the university keeps a list of professors and the various topics they might pronounce upon in the event that a journalist wants an “expert” opinion for a feature he or she is writing.

I’ve been called a few times on a variety of things, but this is the first time someone was routed to me this way. I was interviewed by the TV show Books into Film two and a half years ago about Nick Hornby novels (I think because someone doing an internet search found that I taught High Fidelity on a popular culture course at Western), and a blog entry ranting about potholes prompted a call from the St. John’s Telegram by someone doing a story about potholes. But this was the first call I got based on my stated areas of expertise here at Memorial.

This time, the subject was Facebook—specifically, a feature about Facebook on the occasion of its fifth anniversary. Seeing as how we don’t yet have a Media Studies or Communications program at MUN, I guess an English professor with a secondary interest in media (or who has, at least, taught media studies courses in the past) will have to do.

I am, of course, hardly an expert on digital technologies of communication, unless you count the final chapter of my undergraduate thesis in which I talk briefly about the internet as a postmodern labyrinth apropos of cyberpunk novels. My entire expertise vis a vis Facebook is that I'm a subscriber. That being pointed out to the reporter however, I did gamely offer intellectual-esque commentary. The article is here, but if you just want to read my sound byte:

“One of the greatest appeals is being in contact,” said Chris Lockett, English professor at Memorial University in St. John’s. “One of the appeals about Facebook specifically, too, is that it does sort of cross issues of time and space, so what a lot of people talk about, both positively and negatively, is once they go on Facebook they find themselves quite suddenly in contact with people they hadn’t spoken to or thought about in years. You don’t necessarily talk to them on a regular basis over Facebook, but you do get this constant stream of information in the news feed over what they’re doing and what’s going on. You get a sense of other people’s stories in a very passive way — you don’t have to go out and look for them.”

I don’t know why the reporter needed to have a professor to say something that is essentially common sense, but then I guess that’s what I do—give my “expert” imprimatur to stuff you already knew.

I’m thinking of having that put on my business cards.


Maggie said...

I was wondering, what made them decide to call you? Did they just google search MUN English professor? That's pretty close to how I discovered this blog, which is really neat to read, by the way.

Chris in NF said...

The reporter called Janet Harron, who does publicity for the Faculty of Arts, who consulted the list of people's specialties, and directed her toward me. I guess I'm one of the few with "media" and/or "popular culture" attached to my name.

Maggie said...

nice, it's so good to see new profs around the english department these days with such diverse interests. it actually makes things a little more fun.

Anonymous said...

Interesting article. Facebook is a multifaceted outlet, no doubt. As a prof, what do you make of the whole student/prof "friend" thing? It strikes me as being somewhat unprofessional and inappropriate if said student is sharing more than just a slice of their life online, and then is getting graded by their "friend" professor in the classroom.