Facebook is a work tool. No, Really.

Facebook isn't just for food porn!

Facebook isn’t just for food porn!

First of all, this is not an attempt to cast Facebook as some benevolent or altruistic corporation that exists solely for the betterment of humankind. That would just be wrong. Anyone who knows how Facebook got its start, or who has read about Facebook’s recent mood experiments, knows that’s a tough argument to make.

I also realize that my Facebook feed and the way that I use the interface is different from what most people are seeing and how the vast majority of people are using it. I don’t get photos of nail art, have relatively few “friends” who link their Facebook and their Twitter, I unfriend anyone who plays Farmville, and have a contact list populated by people with PhDs. The most annoying thing that I’ve had to deal with on Facebook as of late is a flood of Ice Bucket Challenge videos, when what I’d really like to be talking about is events in Ferguson (OK, so the ads encouraging me to try the latest miracle diet pill or to join some sketchy dating site are slightly terrifying as well, but I digress).

But for all of it’s flaws, Facebook still offers me a tool that no other program does – at least considering the field in which I work. Facebook is where I find the very best articles and blog posts, many of which are relevant to the material that I teach in my courses. And Facebook is where I meet fellow intellectuals to share knowledge, debate issues, and yes, also to procrastinate. Let’s be honest here: sometimes, terrible Buzzfeed quizzes or photos of space are what you need to get you through the day. Judge me, if you must.

Twitter seems like a good alternative, but it’s too restrictive, limiting commentary to 140 characters. Perhaps I’m too verbose, but I just can’t say what I need to about any given issue in that format. There’s also too much there, and it’s coming too fast. So while I do use Twitter, and follow a number of brilliant intellectuals, activists, and entertainers, I do not have the time or patience to sift through everything I see – and I definitely don’t have the opportunity to respond to important links in a thoughtful way. Twitter overloads my senses, and discourages nuanced response. Don’t get me wrong, it’s the best place to follow important controversies in real time; but for adjuncts or junior professors, it’s too time consuming, and also a little too public.

Then there’s IRC. IRC, or Internet Relay Chat, does for tech geeks what Facebook does for me. So it seems like a better, more secure interface where the NSA won’t read everything I say and where Mark Zuckerberg won’t play head games with me. The problem is that most humanists – with the possible exception of the Digital Humanities folks – are not on IRC. They’re on Facebook. So that’s where I am too.

So what’s the big deal? Why is the fact that I sit on Facebook all day, like a turtle sunning myself on a log, blog worthy? Well, there are a number of reasons. First, there is the guilt factor. I am constantly asking myself if I’m wasting my time, while simultaneously worrying that my peers are judging me for dicking around online when I should be writing my lectures or dealing with that ever-increasing stack of papers on my desk. Second – and this is the one that gets to me much more – there is the creeping feeling of hypocrisy. Facebook is frivolous and I’m an obnoxiously serious person. It’s profiling me, and is therefore also potentially dangerous, depending on who harnesses that information and for what purposes. I know this. I tell my Media Ethics class this. And yet, I use Facebook all day, every day, just the same.

Despite all this, I end up using Facebook more and not less as time goes on. Maybe it’s an addiction and I’m just in denial? Maybe, any moment now, I’ll slip into an envy spiral and spend my days Facestalking old friends and lovers until the days turn to weeks, and the weeks turn to months, and no one ever sees me again. If this happens, all I ask is that someone does me the courtesy of adding a post script to this blog, warning readers of how completely wrong I really was.

I don’t think I’m addicted though, and I really feel like I’m getting something valuable from the experience. Colleagues having been sending me articles about my latest obsession – the reinvigoration of the feminist sex wars – for my Gendered World Views course. Last year, the first time I taught Media Ethics, a guy I don’t even know sent me information about the scandal surrounding Liebeskonzil via a friend’s wall. I had no idea the movie even existed, let alone that it had been banned by the Austrian Government for insulting the Christian Religion. FYI, said ban was later upheld by the European Court of Human Rights. Fascinating, right?

Sure, I get into the occasional flame war, but even these not-always-productive and yet always enraging conversations help me to crystalize my thinking – often about topics that I discuss in the classroom. And any useless troll battling that I partake in is counter-balanced by the people who pop up and suggest new material that they think I should cover or offer feedback on stuff I’ve already done. Furthermore, Facebook allows me to access a younger perspective when I need feedback regarding curriculum and assignments, since I have a few former students who’ve kept in touch over the years. These people are all now working professionals in their own right, but they’re closer to the undergrad experience than I am, so I appreciate any suggestions they have.

Basically, I use Facebook as a sounding board for everything and anything, and so I will continue to take the good with the bad unless a better platform comes along. Until that happens, my goal is to feel less guilty about using Facebook, and to encourage more educators to do the same. After all, the more of you are on there, the better my sounding board gets.

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5 Questions Posed by an Itinerant Professor to the Universe

Ok, I admit it. I’ve been bad and neglecting my blog. In my defense, I’ve moved schools yet again and my schedule has been up in the air. I also took a vacation this year (*gasp*). That’s right, a bone fide, no-laptop, no-work, no-conference vacation. And I don’t even feel bad about it. So there!

Anyway, I hereby pledge to do my best to better maintain this site with my usual balance of sarcasm and the occasional sincere reflection. Today, I’m leaning towards sarcasm, so here it is: the five questions I have for the universe after my first day back.

  1. Why is the computer console in every classroom (not to mention every school) different, and why can I never find the sound?

No, really. WTF? There is absolutely no way not to look like the stereotypical, absent-minded professor on the first day of class unless you have come in the day before, broken into a classroom that should be locked, and dissected the AV equipment while anxiously checking to make sure that security isn’t about to throw you out.

“Where is the remote? Oh wait, this one has no remote! Ok, well, how the hell do I turn the projector on?” These are the words I mumble wildly to myself while randomly pressing buttons, like a group of children who’ve found an unknown object and decide to poke it with a stick. “Oooohhhhh… that’s how it works,” I mutter, until I realize that I still don’t know where the volume is. This scenario inevitably continues to play itself out, until some kind soul in the back row shouts: “the volume is on the wall!” I say “thank you,” humbled, and defeated. So why, dear universe, can you not standardize this things, or at the very least, send me a manual in advance?

  1. Who designed this building, and why do I feel like I’m in a labyrinth about to be eaten by a Minotaur?

Ok, so, technically I already know the answer to this question. In some cases (and I will pretend to be the mature adult and not name names), buildings were actually intentionally designed to confuse people. In the wake of the 1960s, and the eruption of student protests that characterized those years, some campus buildings were actually created with riot control in mind and designed to divide people and keep them disoriented. In other cases, like a medieval cathedral, the school just kept adding more and more wings as they got more money and needed more space… until all hope for sanity or coherence was lost. Either way, every time I start somewhere new I feel hopeless and alone, and I can never find the bathroom.

  1. Why are there so many lost people (other than me, of course)?

Ironically, despite being a teacher and loving my job, I don’t really like other human beings a lot of the time. This is particularly true when I’m already stressed, lost, and seriously under-caffeinated. So tell me, oh powers that be, why there have to be so many other people in my space while I turn in circles trying to distinguish the F-wing from the A-wing and wondering why I can’t find either one.

  1. Is there something special about my clothing on day one that guarantees that I will drop coffee and various foodstuffs all over myself?

Confession time. I’m teaching night school this year, so I have to eat dinner before I run off to class, and I may have eaten the most offensively garlicky meal ever in a small, communal office this evening. My office mates probably didn’t appreciate it, and if I recall, I don’t think I had the forethought to warn them or the grace to apologize. So to anyone else who was in my space at around 6pm today: I’m sorry.

But, just because I am an ignorant sod, with no regard for those working around me, do I really need to wear the remnants of my meal as a badge of my shameful behavior, so that all the world can judge? Granted, I end up dribbling things down the front of white blouses with amazing frequency all the time, but it seems like the odds of me wearing my latte are unusually high on day 1. So, I would like the universe to explain if there is indeed a special magnetic attraction between any outfit worn on the first day of teaching and the food or beverage I am trying to get into my mouth.

  1. Which codes get me into what system, and what am I even doing right now anyway?

This year I have a door code, a computer code, a copy code, and a variety of other numbers attached to my name: significantly fewer codes than normal but enough to drive me insane nonetheless! And since I’m an historian, I simply cannot content myself by putting all these things in a note on my iPhone –let’s face it, I’m never going to remember all that shit – so I have a series of post-it notes attached to my phone, wallet, laptop, binder, and whatever else has a reasonably inviting surface. My things look ruffley, and may even take flight. So really, at this point, all I want to know from the universe is what numbers and letters you would like me to input because I’ve long-since lost track? Well, actually, I also need to know where? And maybe when?