by Sasha Tremento
At its annual meeting in Chicago yesterday, the Association of Academic Affairs Professionals warned of the perils of a rapidly growing new social-networking phenomenon, BrainSnipe.net, at which students write anonymous snarky comments about their peers’ intellectual sophistication.
“Acumen is in and tact is out,” said Sheila DeGenarro, assistant deputy dean of academic affairs at Plenora College. “And it’s really sick stuff. Kids will just post anything and everything without realizing the damage they’re doing to others’ self-esteem and even their future careers.”
Administrators and parents became more aware of the site after the recent highly publicized incident at Southwest State University in which Lydia Thomas, a sophomore, having received vicious critiques of her understanding of Hume, switched her major from philosophy to political science.
“You’re so stuck in George Berkley-esque subjective idealism you can’t even see the advancement of Hume’s thought to proto-logical positivism, you moron,” read a typical post in that case, signed by someone calling herself “Uniformity of Nature My Hiney!” “BTW,” that commenter added, “linen skirt and those incred’ly cute gladiator sandals! Loving it!!”
“I could barely look myself in the mirror after that,” Thomas told reporters. “I mean I’m glad they liked my outfit, but I had been steeped in a fairly traditional reading of causation, and this vicious clique of skeptical realists had it in for me. I just couldn’t take it anymore.”
But Todd Markham, a senior comparative-literature major writing his honors thesis on Borges, said he appreciates the candid assessments at BrainSnipe. “Like this one commenter found my seminar discussion of ‘The Garden of the Forking Paths’ quite jejune in its consideration of nonlinearity, and while I hated to admit it, that person was so right. I’m totally going to revise that chapter in my thesis. That’s the kind of criticism a classmate might not say to your face, but it’s really helpful to know what people are thinking of you.”
“I don’t mind that you slept with my boyfriend,” said another typical BrainSnipe post. “After all, he has a pretty irresistible understanding of Rilke, and your feel for the works of Louis Aragon, well, that’s just not something I can offer him, so I can see how he’d seek it out elsewhere. But the way you slapped down my riff on Friederich Holderlin’s influence on cinema? You b—-!”
DeGenarro urged colleges to carefully consider their policies toward BrainSnipe, perhaps issuing student guidelines for its use.
“I mean, this one girl came to me in tears,” DeGenarro said, because a classmate ridiculed her misordering of pyruvate oxidation, the Krebs cycle, and phosphorylation. Someone needs to monitor that kind of thing. These are real people with real feelings.”