Twofish's Blog

August 6, 2006

Getting into freelance academia

Filed under: academia, wikipedia — twofish @ 8:55 pm

Stuck on an airplane with a broken water valve at JFK.  I had to leave wikimania a day early, so that I could get the house in order to prepare for my wife and kids arrival from Taiwan.  Gives me some time to think…..

I’m looking at the road ahead of me, and it looks bumpy and difficult.  It appears that becoming a freelance academic is the easiest way of me to do scholarship, but its never easy being a pioneer.  There is part of me that relishes the excitement of doing something new and difficult, but there is another part of me that resents having to do this.  After a short time, the novelty wears off, and you find that there is remarkably little praise and glory.  So why do it?

It *can’t* be for any external reason.  If my reason for doing what I’m doing is to get praise from someone else, or to get a prestigious job at the end, this is dangerous because there is a large risk that it won’t happen, and it involves putting your fate in the hands of someone else and that’s always dangerous.  On the other hand, in doing these things the goal must be intrinsic.  I’m trying to be an academic because I want to learn something new, and whatever happens I will learn something new.  That satisfies part of me.  Other parts are still (and probably will forever) be upset that the “fairy princess” has it easier than me.
Anyway some other notes…..

Part of the reason that I was probably so animated when talking about education reform is that a friend of mine who worked with me on distance education died a few weeks ago.  We worked on creating an online university (see and the nice thing about that project is that that provides a huge amount of experience for someone else developing an online university.  The real, real, real key part is to have a community, and be on guard for the subtle ways the community can be destroyed.

There was a community of academics on MOO’s in the mid-1990’s, and when that happened there were a lot of initiatives.  The problem (and this is really relevant to wikipedia) is that commercial companies started creating better proprietary equivalents to MOO’s.  This caused people to move over to Yahoo chat, but in the process of doing this, it destroyed the community infrastructure.  This is where money and organization comes in (and why I’m happy to see that Jimbo Wales and Brad Patrick are thinking about these issues).  If you try to maintain “purity” by not thinking about money and power, control over the infrastructure goes over to commercial producers that want to produce a tame version of the internet.

This was one of the points of my talk on the Chinese government’s firewall.  Ultimately, commercial interests want to “tame” the internet in much the same way that the Chinese government wants to.  The vision of both Yahoo, MSN, google, and the Chinese government for the internet is people passively chatting about the latest movies and consuming ads, but doing nothing that will change the world or fundamental distribution of power in society.  The sad part is that the people who are trying to use the internet to change the world, are our adversaries in the Long War.


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