Week 3: Social Media, “Serious Academic Discussion,” and Compulsory Use in the Classroom

Any digital tool or platform that allows for an exchange to take place (whether it is a social exchange, an exchange of data, the sharing of research etc.) has the potential to facilitate “collaborative scholarly work.” We spent much of last class discussing the inadequacies of certain social media sites and how frankly, most attempts to co-opt them for scholarly use can read as unproductive or contrived in some way. I have been considering this question over the last few days and am not sure I have fully fleshed out how to combat my skepticism towards social media and academic practice. Rather than allowing my ambivalence to limit the potential relationships that might exist in the intersection between the two, I’ve tried to reconsider these sites and services in a more charitable, optimistic, and productive light. Below I have listed several social media platforms and the ways in which they might benefit a collaborative, academic exchange:

Facebook — As I will discuss later in this blog post, my anxiety about the intersection between my private (personal) and public (academic) web presence is perhaps the most significant reason for my skepticism. Though I am by no means a truly “active” social media user, I do enjoy the space I have curated on my account and the freedom to do, say, post, or comment at my discretion, without worrying about reading as “unprofessional.” My solution to this predicament is Facebook’s “Groups” feature. Facebook “Groups” are pages (public or private) in which a community of people can enjoy all the functionality of Facebook without necessarily being “friends” with one another. These Groups contain a wall, a messaging feature, the option to maintain the group as “closed” (an invitation to join the group is necessary to view its content) or open for public viewership. This function differs from a “Page” (i.e. one might “like” Gang of Four’s Facebook Page but would typically not join a Gang of Four “Group”) in that there is a more dispersed power / administrative functionality across all the members. One can see a list of members, upcoming events, share photos and files, post on a shared “wall,” comment on said posts. In essence, it lends itself to collaborative use, allows for a centralized topic or theme to be addressed, but still maintains a “distance” between a private account and the public forum in which it exists.

Pinterest — Though I personally do not use this social media tool any longer, I am familiar with how it works / operates. Often regarded as an aggregation of images ranging from twee bric-a-brac to cliche misattributed quotations overlayed on pictures of whitesand beaches or overly saturated starlit nights, I could see Pinterest being used in a potentially academic manner. The function that “underpins” this site is the ability to collect and organize material (text, articles, images, etc) into different “boards.” Its primary advantage over, say, Google Drive or another file storing digital space, is that one can “pin” anything one encounters on the web without having to visit the Pinterest website itself. Though meant to evoke a series of bulletin boards, Pinterest can also be thought of as a mental map, where one’s current interests, discoveries, and lines of research can be collected, organized, and shared. For instance, were I to do research on certain images in a family of medieval manuscripts or were I researching the illustrations in Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience or were I interested in analyzing the rhetoric of midcentury typewriter advertisements, these images could be aggregated, organized, displayed, and shared — offering an insight into my own line of research and discovery as well as allowing for others to “like” or “pin” those same images to their own “boards.”

I don’t really know if I could define the line between “gimmick” and actual “productivity.” Though I have made the case here for two websites that might indeed be beneficial, I know that I personally have little desire to use either of these inside of an academic context. There are other tools that just seem more productive than these, such as Google Docs or email or even Tumblr for that matter. I think all of us in this class are asked to straddle a very blurry line between professional academia and young adulthood — this liminal space is problematic and rather than decisively crossing into the former (a step that I know must be taken at some point), I try to avoid the matter altogether by not mixing my private life as a student and the more public presence the academy seems to necessitate. I’ve gone so far as to use a consistent pseudonym on all my social media accounts (including Facebook who haven’t caught on that I’m using a false name) to further distance my public identity as a MA student and instructor from my personal life. Thus, the way in which this use of social media should be incorporated into a pedagogical / academic practice must in my opinion be voluntary. This might seem like a small, insignificant point but compulsory usage of social media stymies most of the benefits (a sense of collaborative, mutually beneficial exchanges) and instead becomes a coopting of a “popular” tool for the sake of seeming “hip.” If the participants in that space enter into it willingly and with an open mind and a conviction in its benefits, then I’d suppose it wouldn’t matter whether I or anyone else saw it as a gimmick — the people using that space in that way would stand to have a positive experience. Perhaps there is a vacuum in the realm of social media for purely academic spaces in which like-minded people can participate in collaborative work online (though if I remember correctly, there might be?) but regardless this is still an issue with which I am attempting to negotiate.

I find this hashtag to be a much more productive space than #digped: it’s chaotic, diverse, populated, immediate — just as Twitter should be. There are conversations and sub-conversations that one can dip in and out of at will without feeling as though there is a single line of thought or discussion that I have to follow.  Pictures of people in their rooms sipping nips of Glenfiddich are interspersed between conference livetweets and links to resources and Voyant-manufactured word clouds. There is an unselfconsciousness and a levity to this hashtag — no one is “performing” a “Serious Academic Discussion” and yet I found the insights and the resources in this “conversation” (though I use this term very loosely) much more accessible and productive. I clicked on a link, read a blogpost, and only after finishing it realized it was part of the Digital Pedagogy Lab (the same group that hosted the digped discussion). HILT2015 was more successful in drawing me into the DPL site than the conversation hosted by them in the first place (http://bit.ly/1tkQIC7). Interestingly I also found a resource that is relevant to my personal, non-academic life as a freelance transcriptionist (a collaborative googledoc that lists 45 different transcription tools). The fragmented, spontaneous, nebulous nature of this “conversation” is what makes it feel more organic, less self-aware, and resultant from that is an enthusiasm and curiosity and willingness to “dig” that I found absent in the digped conversation.

P.S. Melanie, I just read your Tweet about Yik Yak — would love to discuss this today in class with you!

Please share a couple of the sources from your presentation yesterday that you think are particularly insightful:

“Do Artifacts Have Politics?” Langdon Winner (Daedalus, Vol. 109, No. 1, Modern Technology: Problem or Opportunity? Winter, 1980, pp. 121-136)

“Subversive Rationalization: Technology, Power, and Democracy” Andrew Feenberg (Inquiry, Vol. 35, No. 2/3, September/December 1992)

“Moralizing Technology: On the Morality of Technological Artifacts and Their Design” Peter-Paul Verbeek in Readings on the Philosophy of Technology

“Technological Ethics in a Different Voice” Diane P. Michelfelder in Readings on the Philosophy of Technology

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