Thursday, April 5, 2012

Professional Day Part 1: Concerns of Social Media

Tuesday, April 3, 2012 was North Shore Community College's Professional Day. I ran a workshop on using Social Media.  My goal was provide some ideas and approaches to using it.  However, in order to get there, there were issues to address that commonly come up when discussing social media.  I wanted to address and negate some of these concerns and inflated fears.  I also wanted to help colleagues understand why its important to be using social media or how students can benefit from our usage of it.  Finally, I wanted to highlight ways in which it can be used in the classroom.  What follows is a series of posts highlighting some of what I hoped to communicate and also some of what I heard and learned from my colleagues.   

Concerns and Fears around Social Media
It’s making us stoopiderer

This argument was first brought up by Nicholas Carr in The Atlantic Monthly and followed up by his book, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains.  The book is a thoughtful book, but he can't get around the fact that his argument is based upon his self-admission that he can't think as deeply as he used to but disproves this by writing a deeply and critical book about said issue.  Furthermore, some of the research that he uses is not as clear cut or relevant and this has been strongly addressed by Brian Chen in his book, Always On: How the iPhone Unlocked the Anything-Anytime-Anywhere Future--and Locked Us In.  Additionally, Carr's argument is focused on the Internet as a whole and not just social media, of which there are some differences.

It’s distracting.
Without a doubt, our social media has the potential to be distracting, BUT we don't make it less by distracting by avoiding it.  Rather we learn to discriminate with social media, just like we do by driving--by doing it and learning what to focus on and what to ignore.  Everyday life is extremely distracting, except we've learned how to make it less so, but immersing ourselves it in and realizing what's important and what's not, how to prioritize, and how to make judgments about the streams of information.  

It’s leaving people vulnerable.
Around issues of privacy, yes--there are concerns about this.  After all, the latest fright running through the media landscape is that employers are asking for passwords to potential employees' Facebook accounts.  Yes, avoiding the online world altogether doesn't work for two reasons.  1.  You're already on the internet.  Particularly those of us working at NSCC, things like our salaries are already out there.  Avoiding engaging in the online environment means that all information that is out there about you is put out there by someone else.  2.  A lack of an online presence will become increasingly questionable or be an indication of a lack of a skillset that is increasingly relevant to all sorts of work.  

It’s not “real.”
There's concern about the substance of social media and claim that it's ephemeral nature leads to no "real" world interaction.  With programs like FourSquare, social media is used to project us into the real world.  However, Clay Shirky  among others would feel that it does have real world influence and in the case of Wael Ghonim, one of the leaders in the Egyptian Revolution, it certainly did constitute something real.  

It’s superficial.
What does pressing "like" even mean?  I have 400+ "friends" and 200+ "followers" but it doesn't really mean anything.  Possibly.  But blaming the tool might be missing the point.  Social media quantifies and reflects how we move through the real world.  If we don't feel "connected" to our 400 "friends"--doesn't that speak to ourselves and the superficiality of our connections?  A better way of thinking about this is that social media shows us all the people we are bonded with in some way.  Some bonds are strong; others are weak.  A social network reminds you of all the people you are connected to, but it's up to you to decide how to engage with them.  

It’s an echo-chamber.
Besides issues of filtering that are occurring according to Eli Pariser, there's also self-filtering that is occurring.  This is inducing a concern of each person's social media being merely an echo-chamber for them to yell but not listen.  Again, this is something we will foster by choosing to not engage and interact.  

My points here aren't to say these aren't important concerns, but avoiding social media in our lives or in our classroom doesn't make these challenges go away and we leave our students less prepared for the world they are entering in. They need to see how we interact through social media as role models but also to understand the ways information and disciplines are changing as a result of social media too.  

In the next post in this series, we'll focus on The Importance of Social Media for the Community College.  The final post will look at what I learned and took from the event.