Social media are taking off and revolutionalizing the ways that people connect and communicate with each other. They have been around for a long time — MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, to name only a few. Social media and academics should be a nature fit, since communication and collaboration are so essential to our work. But university faculty are scarcely seen in these places. And that concerns me.
Maybe you’ve been intimidated at the idea of learning this new technology. Or maybe you think it’s unprofessional or inconsequential for academics. But if you don’t get on board soon, you’re going to be left behind.
Remember what happened to the generation that didn’t learn about PCs when they first came in? Back in 2000, Fiona Clark and I taught frail seniors how to use PCs, send emails, and search the Internet. This is how they described their feelings about their lack of knowledge about these new technologies:
Both at the pre-test and the post-test interviews, participants again and again expressed their frustration at their ignorance about computers, which are all around them in a world which seems to have passed them by. Over and over they used words like “ignorant” and “stupid” to describe how they feel when computers are mentioned in the media or when they cannot understand what their young grandchildren are doing or talking about. Several mentioned at the beginning that they would like to understand what is meant by the “www-dot” that everyone is talking about. They also felt that there were large parts of their children’s and grandchildren’s lives that they could not share in (Straka & Clark, 2000).
It’s time to plunge in. Universities are conservative institutions and those of us who use social media are still the exception. But social media are not going away. Start with something easy like Facebook to get in touch with old friends and colleagues. Make sure you set the privacy options so that only your “friends” can see your profile. And be smart about what kind of content you post (no embarrasing pictures, no personal secrets).
It’s lonely being an academic in the social media. I’m finding lots of people working in nonprofits and lots of consultants who help nonprofits to get into social media. But there are very few university faculty members.
© Silvia Straka and A Just Society, 2008