“When the web started, I used to get really grumpy with people because they put my poems up. They put my stories up. They put my stuff up on the web. I had this belief, which was completely erroneous, that if people put your stuff up on the web and you didn’t tell them to take it down, you would lose your copyright, which actually, is simply not true.
And I also got very grumpy because I felt like they were pirating my stuff, that it was bad. And then I started to notice that two things seemed much more significant. One of which was… places where I was being pirated, particularly Russia where people were translating my stuff into Russian and spreading around into the world, I was selling more and more books. People were discovering me through being pirated. Then they were going out and buying the real books, and when a new book would come out in Russia, it would sell more and more copies. I thought this was fascinating, and I tried a few experiments. Some of them are quite hard, you know, persuading my publisher for example to take one of my books and put it out for free. We took “American Gods,” a book that was still selling and selling very well, and for a month they put it up completely free on their website. You could read it and you could download it. What happened was sales of my books, through independent bookstores, because that’s all we were measuring it through, went up the following month three hundred percent.
I started to realize that actually, you’re not losing books. You’re not losing sales by having stuff out there. When I give a big talk now on these kinds of subjects and people say, “Well, what about the sales that I’m losing through having stuff copied, through having stuff floating out there?” I started asking audiences to just raise their hands for one question. Which is, I’d say, “Okay, do you have a favorite author?” They’d say, “Yes.” and I’d say, “Good. What I want is for everybody who discovered their favorite author by being lent a book, put up your hands.” And then, “Anybody who discovered your favorite author by walking into a bookstore and buying a book raise your hands.” And it’s probably about five, ten percent of the people who actually discovered an author who’s their favorite author, who is the person who they buy everything of. They buy the hardbacks and they treasure the fact that they got this author. Very few of them bought the book. They were lent it. They were given it. They did not pay for it, and that’s how they found their favorite author. And I thought, “You know, that’s really all this is. It’s people lending books. And you can’t look on that as a loss of sale. It’s not a lost sale, nobody who would have bought your book is not buying it because they can find it for free.”
What you’re actually doing is advertising. You’re reaching more people, you’re raising awareness. Understanding that gave me a whole new idea of the shape of copyright and of what the web was doing. Because the biggest thing the web is doing is allowing people to hear things. Allowing people to read things. Allowing people to see things that they would never have otherwise seen. And I think, basically, that’s an incredibly good thing.”—
Neil Gaiman [on Copyright, Piracy, and the Commercial Value of the Web] (source)
You know that phenomenon where something you used to like becomes associated with something that you hate, thus rendering what you used to like repulsive? Maybe it’s a song that you used to listen to with your ex-girlfriend, or the smell of a handsoap that you now associate with your old roommate. Well, graduate school has done that to me with linguistics.
I used to like linguistics. Like, a lot. Reading all this stuff just for fun. Participating in online discussions, on blogs and on Twitter.
Now, I don’t want to even think about it. All the linguistics people I’m following on Twitter make me wince whenever they post. Because I just don’t want to think about it anymore. Whenever I do participate in these discussions now, I feel icky all over. As if I’m somehow betraying my own emotions or something. It’s really very terrible.
And I don’t know what to do. I’ve had one whole semester of grad school. Four months. And, let me tell you, I started hating it about 3 months ago.
At first, it was fun. Being busy all the time, doing linguisticky things. But then it started to become, being busy ALL THE TIME. Sacrificing sleep and showering just to get homework done. Being exhausted all day. Being stressed because of the idiosyncracies of what each professor wanted. It was terrible. It took all the willpower I had just to make it to the end of the semester.
The countdown to Thanksgiving was unbearable. When I was on the ride home, I was elated. Like, I was grinning from ear to ear, sitting on the train going home for Thanksgiving. I had never, ever been that happy to be going home. I was home for about four and a half days.
Then it was the push to the end of the semester. Another week or two of classes, and then the onslaught of finals. And, in grad school, that really means final papers. Or take home tests that might as well be final papers. It sucked.
And, on top of that, what was the point? Sure, there are grades at the end of the semester. But it’s grad school. Grades don’t matter. It’s more of a popularity contest than high school, in some respects. Except, this time, the professors are the ones voting.
But that isn’t even the point, because I don’t think I’m hurting in that regard. Just because I’m miserable all the time doesn’t mean I can’t do linguistics. My grades, and my standing, are fine.
No, the point is that I don’t care. It all means diddly squat to me. If I could, I’d never go back. At all. I literally thought the other day about what I left behind in my apartment that I care about. That’s how much I don’t want to back.
But I have to. Why? Because I signed a bunch of different papers forcing me to. The apartment on my lease runs through the summer. And I got funding for next semester, which means I signed a contract saying that I’ll be working from February 1 through May 31. After that, though, I’m done.
I’ve been waffling back and forth about whether I should attempt to stay the summer and get out with a Master’s, but I don’t know if that’s gonna happen. I don’t have the money for that, and I doubt they’d fund it. Not to mention how burnt out I’ll definitely be by then. I’m already burnt out now, and my schedule for next semester is going to be ten times worse than it was last semester.
As you can probably tell by the timestamp on this post, I’m a night person. It’s currently 4 AM. I don’t usually go to bed until well after midnight. (I’m up now because I can’t sleep. Hence why I’m here.) And I’ve been waking up naturally at around 10 or 11 AM these past few weeks. That’s the way my body works. If I don’t wake up until 1 PM, so be it.
But next semester, I’ve got two classes on three days that begin in the 9 o’clock hour. In order to make it to those classes, I’ll have to wake up around 6 AM. Which means I’ll have to go to bed well before midnight if I plan to get anywhere near a good night’s sleep. And that doesn’t take into account the extra time I’m sure I’ll wind up needing to do homework somewhere along the line.
On top of that, Mondays are going to be especially killer. The class that begins at 9:05 is scheduled to run 3 hours. And then I’ve got two more classes back to back after that. That means I won’t be done until around 3 in the afternoon, and there’s no guarantee I’ll have time to eat anywhere in between.
What will also screw me up is the fact that the class I’m TAing for is in the afternoon. Tuesdays and Thursdays, I have my own miserable class 9:30 AM to 10:45 AM. Then I have to wait around to go to my TA class at 2 PM. And I have to decide where in all this I’m going to fit in my office hours. This is going to be the best part of my semester, and I’m already dreading it.
So I don’t know what to do. Every time I think about going back to school, I want to either run away screaming or curl up into a ball and cry. Later today, my sister goes back to Georgia. She starts class again on Monday. Then in another three weeks or so, it’ll be my turn. Classes start February 6 for me, but I’ll be going back before then.
And I’m still wondering why. I get asked time and time again what I’m going to do with a degree in linguistics. After clarifying what linguistics is, I don’t have an answer. I don’t know. I don’t want to become a professor of linguistics. I don’t want to perpetuate this cycle. Because, honestly, theoretical linguistics has few practical applications. It’s essentially an academia-internal subject. It’s as useless as philosophy. The degree says it’s an Art, not a Science.
So, I ask again, what’s the point?
And for those still lucky enough to be in the fun part of school, where they make you take a variety of courses that expand your horizons, where you can still see the forest even if you’re wondering why you’re looking at it, I have one piece of advice for you: Don’t go to grad school. You’ll be staring a single tree of that forest for the rest of your life. And you’ll still be wondering why you’re even looking at it.