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.