Professor Stephen Vladeck, being formally informal

I despise Twitter, the Black Hole of social media. Full of information, yet uninformative.  Meaningful discussion doesn’t take place 240 characters at a time. Still, I am drawn back.

This morning I was pulled in by a (Stay Tuned with) Preet Bharara tweet, cited in an article I was reading.  One thing led to another, and I came up fore square  with the twitter account of Stephen Vladeck,  CNN’s Supreme Court analyst and the A. Dalton Cross Professor in Law at the University of Texas School of Law.  I think he might have some interesting things to say.  After a nod to his “better 1/2,” Prof. Vladeck gives a shout-out to Roxanna, his Pug Dog.

I recoil. Less than a minute ago, I didn’t know of Steve Vladeck’s existence. Now, I am knee-deep in the details of his household.  I quit after his nod to Roxanna, his beloved Pug .  I don’t need to know that Vladeck has a Pug Dog.  No disrespect to the estimable Professor, but I’m still not sure I need to know about Vladeck at all.

What’s more, I don’t want to know about the greater Vladeck cohort.  It takes up brain space, and I can’t spare any. Now I’m stuck with another Roxanna in my head, loitering with Police’s Roxanne and a girl from grade school.  This absorbs capacity needed for important information, like the phone number of my dog’s vet. That’s the kind of info that for me was always on standby. Now,  it’s being displaced by the dog name of a complete stranger. 

When I speak to people I might mention our dogs as a common interest or breeds for the same reason.  But no names, please.  There’s something too familiar about that.  

I shouldn’t be thinking about a Pug Dog named Roxanna, any more than I should be on a first-name basis with Prof. Vladeck.  I just can’t call him Steve. It’s too intimate, and I’d  get him mixed up with a bunch of other Steves already on my personal server.

Professors like Steve Vladeck are usually wrapped in the formality of their offices. I doubt he goes by Steve for his One-L  students.  Why any stranger should think of him as Steve puzzles me.  I’ll bet it’s not on his CV.  Nobody introduces him as plain old Steve at his lectures on constitutional law.  “It’s Prof. Vladeck, thank you very much.”  But for 47.1K of his closest friends, the CNN audience and me, it’s Steve. 

Nothing against the highly-regarded pedagogue. We are disarmed by informality. Like a man boxed in an anonymous suit, formality, not education, is the great equalizer.  Now, it’s Steve or Bernie or Hillary. It’s the tyranny of the familiar. We now go by given names with strangers; everyone, really, except  for doctors.  Time was, there were no given names without a courtship. Now we’ve gotten used to familiarity by telemarketers and robocallers.  I think Bill Clinton started it. Maybe Bill and Hillary. And Buddy, another dog coopted by his celebrity owner.

I like the comfort of formality.  It’s a handshake, not a hug.  Hugs are tricky. Was that hug affectionate? Was it intimate?  Was that an “I-don’t-know -you-that-well” hug or a “guys-don’t-hug” hug? Do we know each other well enough for a conventional hug or just a side hug?  Handshakes are dignified but noncommittal. You will soon find out if your new acquintance is wielding an olive branch  or a subpoena.

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