The past few days have seen a bloggerfall of posts addressing varying aspects of how and what we choose to share in our corners of cyberspace (do we still even use that word?). A few of those posts were shared by Vijay Pendakur, Valerie Heruska, Kristen Abell, and Matt Bloomingdale. Since I have an opinion, and a blog to share it in, I decided to hop into a barrel and take the plunge on the topic as well.
Back in my senior year of high school, the person I was dating decided to take me to the Metropolitan Museum of Art one day. Art was a major part of her life, both the creation and the appreciation, and wanted to share this part of her world with me. Being ever the supportive boyfriend, and always up for a trip into the city, I happily went along. My eagerness shifted to bewilderment as we started to view some of the “modern” pieces of the gallery. Once we hit “Blue Panel”, I lost it. I actually laughed out loud and exclaimed “This isn’t art, it’s a joke and we’re the punchline”. My definition of “art” ended at anything that was created by someone for whom a Ninja Turtle was named after. Obviously, my companion was deeply hurt by my reaction. For her, art wasn’t just something you put on the wall, but was an expression of identity, and I had, essentially, scoffed at hers.
Fast forward years later. I’m in the office I shared with a co-worker, where we would take turns playing tunes through the computer (that was new back then). I was just finishing a medley of showtunes performed by some famously talented Broadway actresses when my coworker exclaimed “Oh thank god that noise is over”. Noise? These were some of the most talented singers to grace the stage! This wasn’t “noise”, this was beauty! Well, the same music that raised my consciousness to another level made my coworker wish that she was unconscious.
Growing up, if a song that I thought fell into the “hip-hop” genre began playing on the radio, I immediately changed the station to something – anything – else. It wasn’t until I was a graduate student at the University of Maryland, when I had the opportunity to support the planning of a “Hip-Hop Conference” that I realized the depth of the expression that this genre of music represented. While I wasn’t converted into a fan, I realized I should no longer be dismissive of it (you could practically witness my shifting through Perry’s stages of development right then and there).
Like art and music, social media is yet another area that provides space for expression. While social media is definitely not new, as we were reminded by the 10-year anniversary videos being shared throughout Facebook, many of us are still figuring out how we navigate and own our social media corners of the sky. As educators, our approaches to social media have a few layers. The first is how we view social media in relation to the students with whom we work. As we watch them share the many aspects of their lives, we feel an obligation to help them navigate them “appropriately”. But I think we too often get caught up in the “do’s and don’ts” instead of helping our students to think critically about what they choose to post and share. Barring posts that violate laws, policies, or the rights and safety of others, I believe we should come more from a counseling approach. When we spot a post that might induce a cringe, let’s hold up a mirror to help provide our students with an outside view of what they posted. We might even want to say “this is how your post appeared to me, and how it could appear to a professor, co-worker, future employer, etc”. But ultimately if the students decide this is how they want to present and express themselves, so be it.
The other layer is how we approach each other (colleagues, friends, family, etc) in our social media spaces. I think we’re too quick to say what others should or should not be posting in their own spaces. We need to stop putting the onus on others to provide what we perceive to be as valuable to our own social media feeds. For many, including me, the people we have connected with via social media are part of our extended communities. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to use your social media tools. If we have an issue with what we see being shared or posted, maybe its as much about us as it is about them. Who decides how much information is actually “too much”? Maybe it’s too much for you, and that’s ok, but that’s about you, not about them.
So, if you’re tired of seeing my posts of my infant doing infant things, of my pictures of my daughter and I make silly faces, or of my slogging through 3.14 miles last night hide them or unfriend me. It’s ok, you do what you have to do. If you have had enough of my tweets about community colleges or award-show snark, shift me to another list you read less frequently or unfollow me. Don’t worry, it’s happened before. I won’t be offended. It’s ok. But if you continue to follow me, understand that I’m not going to change. It’s not because this is my “brand”. No, it’s because this is part of my identity. The collection of my posts throughout whatever account I’m using at the present moment are all expressions of who I am. And please, if something makes you cringe, let me know. I’ll either say “Wow, I never saw it that way, thanks for letting me know” or I’ll say “Thanks, I disagree, but I do appreciate you reaching out”. But know this – it’s not my responsibility to add value to your social media feeds, its yours to cultivate the environment that works best for you.
Oh, and if you are tired of the Nike runs, or the Buzzfeed posts, or whatever else it is that is making your user experience less than optimal. It’s actually pretty easy to change. I offer an example here of how you can “opt out” of seeing them.