I Share Therefore I Am

Screen Shot 2013-04-22 at 6.32.48 AMFor many people my age, the idea of describing my day to day activities can seem like narcissism  taken to extreme. Did I even want the constant up-to-the-minute updates of what my friends were doing? The hoarding friends on Facebook, or followers on Twitter, held little appeal to me. That is, until I started tweeting and posting. It wasn’t long before I found the omnipresent knowledge of my friends (and I use that term loosely) lives intriguing and additive. Equally appealing was writing the perfect post that resulted in “likes” before my fingers left the keyboard. Someone just read this, and liked it. It is not lost on me that I’m behind a screen and the connection at most is transitory and perhaps even superficial, but it’s there. And yes, I know there are a billion users.

My number of friends grew quickly and I had people from my elementary school years that I hadn’t seen in 40 years. Then I realized that more friends equaled more stress in some ways. I had to shift through comments and posts and photos of people that I wouldn’t like in “real” life. Why was I spending my morning coffee time on their political rants and raves? I started “unfriending” in earnestness especially during the campaign. Aside from the occasional “Way to Go Obama!” post, I shy away from politics and religion on Facebook. I don’t need mass numbers of friends. I’d rather connect with those I care about.  And my kids have finally “friended” me.  I’d like to think that Facebook and Twitter have made me “cool” and “hip”, but in reality, my kids have gotten older and have less to hide from me.

On Pretentiousness and Twitter

I dislike pretentiousness. Which is a difficult dislike to have when you’re a graduate student, because let’s face it: the academic world is rife with it. Or…it has a reputation for being rife with it. To be honest, I’m not quite sure which of those statements is fact anymore. Are there pretentious people in academia? Heck yeah. But are they the norm, or the exception?

I feel like my uncertainty about this has a lot to do with the increased presence of professors on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.  Thanks to Twitter, I now know that Clay Spinuzzi takes the bus to campus, Bill Hart-Davidson is a cyclist, and Quinn Warnick catalogs his Clif bars. Somehow, knowing these small extra details about academics makes them seem a little less Ivory-Tower-y. Somehow, this digital space that we each can only access from one side of a screen tears down walls. Does that even make sense?

Now, I’m not saying that these media spaces are the only things doing this. Just this past weekend, we had an Undergraduate Research Writing Symposium here at Tech, and Dr. Carter-Tod (who organized it) stated that she brought in the three guest speakers because they are “accessible” and generous with their scholarship and time. Only one of the three has an active Twitter presence, so I don’t think that’s what did it for them. They are simply hospitable scholars – and many, many of them exist in the discipline of Rhetoric and Writing. (Hooray!) But not everyone is good at showing the rest of the world that they are ready and willing to lend an ear – even if they truly are. And unfortunately, legends of snobby scholars and “I had a bad experience” stories from students often keep students from feeling like they have the “right” to approach other scholars – unless specifically granted permission to speak.

So I guess what I’m trying to say in my rambly-roundabout way is that social media applications have aided in tearing down walls – whether they be real or just perceived. And though I’m still undecided on how I feel about keeping up with all of this digital stuff, I do know for sure that I at least appreciate Twitter for helping to virtually knock down some walls.
p.s. This post sounded much better when I wrote it in my head while walking to the bus today. Isn’t there some sort of technology that can help me with that?

Reflections on All I Do Not Know – Twitter

I’m only two-weeks into the course, The Digital Self, and my head is spinning with the realm of this new “networked” life. I thought I knew all about the digital era and social networking sites. Facebook and I go way back. And last week in class, I identified myself as part of “the early majority” of users of the internet revolution. Yet after this week’s reading, I realize the more I learn about the digital world, the more I don’t know. One such example is Twitter. I’ve spent hours this weekend traveling through Twitterland and still remain a bit perplexed. Please tell me that Twitter is more than a giant popularity contest gone viral. You may notice that I’m trying hard to retain the bitterness that I’m still at 12 followers while my fourteen-year-old nephew has over 300.

I digress. I can admit when I am wrong. I’ve learned that Twitter is more than people posting about what they had for lunch. A recent study by GlobalWebIndex reveals that Twitter was the fastest growing social network in 2012. And as organizational sociologist Ronald Burt tells us in our textbook¹, “network brokerage is about building connections across different social circles to provide more exposure.” I am now following 148 people and 98% of those people are connections outside my social circle. Social media may be a new territory for me but it is one I will map out in my destination to be more successful and knowledgeable in my career.

¹Networked: The New Social Operating System, by Lee Rainie and Barry Wellman. MIT Press, 2012.