I was raised in an academic family, with some of the standard features thereof (for example, my babysitters were all graduate students of my father). But my father's attitude towards his career was very different than mine. At various times throughout his career, he was asked to apply for jobs at other institutions, some of them institutions that were higher in the academic status hierarchy than his department at Syracuse. He never pursued these offers, and indeed they bewildered him; he had no idea why anyone would move from the department at which they started. An integral part of the life of the mind was a commitment to a single institution, and spending one's life with the same community of scholars. He tended to value conferences, reading groups, and the development of links between the university and the community at least as much as his own written work. My father had a regular philosophy reading group attended by scholars across the university, and our living room was regularly filled with people who were utterly absorbed with ideas. His own production clearly suffered from his other activities. For example, he spent years working with a poor town near Syracuse on a project concerning the responsibility of companies to the communities they abandon. A lot emerged from this project; a documentary, several town-meetings, and a civics class for high school students in that town. But very few publications emerged from it. He also viewed his obligations to his community as extending to his family. For example, he sent his children to Syracuse city public schools. As a professor at the local good university, he felt an extra obligation to be a member of the community, rather than a lesser obligation.
I don't think my father was unusual at Syracuse University at the time. The local city schools had a number of other children of like-minded professors. Many of these other professors reminded me of my father. Their houses were filled to the rafters with books, and as far as I could tell, like my father, they were interested in almost every branch of human knowledge. Most notably, a hierarchical model of academic advancement seemed utterly foreign to them. They were clearly not in academia to be successes in life. They were academics because they were imbued with an extraordinary sense of importance of their projects to the world.
I have the sense that my generation of academics is quite different. Since many of us either change institutions or dream of eventually changing institutions, we feel less loyalty to the communities in which we reside. I also meet many academics whose social status, salaries and even the furniture in their houses are as important to them as such symbols are to those in the business world. I think my father would have argued that this is due market forces impinging on academia, blurring the distinction between an academic and a businessperson (always his greatest fear about the future of the university). But I think this would be an overly simplistic view.
First, because of far greater sexism, in my father's generation, an academic's spouse (almost invariably female) was expected to go where ever the academic's career led. But this has completely changed. In my generation, the need to move from institution to institution is usually the result of juggling two careers (as it has been in my own case). But when moving from location to location becomes a necessity for preserving one's family, academics begin to develop a more mercenary attitude towards their current institutions; one begins to think of oneself as a free agent, rather than as a member of an institution and a community. Secondly, because of the ease of travel and communication, our academic communities are no longer anchored to our places of employment. I have a strong academic community, whose members I regularly see at conferences and talks, and chat with on e-mail and on the phone. But they are not anchored to my department.
On the one hand, I think both of these changes are positive effects of a more advanced, more equitable society (and furthermore I certainly wouldn't want to trade my salary for that of my father!). On the other hand, I wonder how much of these changes make academics forget those aspects of academia that make it not just another way to be a success.