Eeeeee!

  • I have had far, far too much coffee today.
  • I just got off the phone with one of my favorite professors of all time, and it was a mutual love fest. (“No, you’re the smartest!” “No, YOU!” Gross, I know, but nice, nonetheless.)
  • Those two things are forming a biochemical suffusion of good will toward men and hyperactivity–a dangerous combination.
  • But what I really need is that calm, focused energy with which to read papers and plan classes.
  • Or even to write a coherent blog post.
  • Perhaps I shouldn’t look the gift horse of any kind of energy in the proverbial mouth at this point in the semester?
  • You know what week it is:

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all.

Friday Paralysis

On Thursday nights, when I collapse on my couch in utter exhaustion and wait for Gray’s Anatomy to come on, I often have this very sleepy thought: this is the moment at which work on Monday is the furthest away that it’s going to be all week.  And it’s wonderful and celebratory (right before I drop into a teaching/grading/meeting induced coma).

And then Friday dawns, and I look at my list of things to do.  It’s usually a bizarre array of specific tasks within larger categories.  For example:

  •  take care of self category (tasks include “go to gym” and “get groceries”)
  • maintain abode/conveyance category (e.g., “get oil change” and “put down storm windows,” “regrout tub,” call electrician”—this is the scary category)
  • research/bring brain back to life category (“finish Fandom book,” “write abstract for collection”—these usually include a number exclamation marks and capital letters)
  • prepare for/maintain classes category (“read papers,” “answer emails,” “meet with American Studies instructors,” “read Gibson, Whitehead, and secondary materials,” “order books for spring”—some of these acquire exclamation points as the weeks go on)

And of course, the unspoken category is have some fun and relax a bit so that you don’t turn into a pinched, cranky harpy.  [A phase that I usually save til December.]  But on Friday morning, I generally lose the ability to prioritize.  What to do first?  What can wait?  If I go to the gym first, will I be too tired to write the abstract?  If I call the electrician, will he come and thus prevent me from going to the grocery store and reading for class?  Why can’t the Spectrum ever schedule a 7 o’clock movie?

In the worst case scenario (and it’s happened more than once), I find myself puttering from thing to thing, or worse, debating the order of operations endlessly until suddenly it’s Sunday evening and I haven’t left the house in two days, and my list is untouched.  In moments like these, I often fall back upon advice my father used to give me: do something, even if it’s wrong.  It’s not sound advice, and I wouldn’t pass it on to anyone else, but on Fridays like these, it’s the thing that gets me up and out the door.

In Your Face(book)!

Oh, the wisdom of the interweb.  You see my incredibly smart interlocutors below?  Much to think about as I try to sort out the uses/abuses of FB.  Rather than try to answer directly, I’m going to try to get at some of the ideas  that occur across their responses.

Kim and Jenn, I think, push on the practical applications of FB for users.  Kim’s  notion of FB as a one-stop shop to avoid the necessity of fresh content in multiple places is really a version of Jenn’s idea about the single place to check on RSS feeds*.  The first is about economy of produsage, the second about singularity of consumption.  In both, it’s about building a digital space that will function as aggregator of web functions.  [I can’t help but think, here, of Henry Jenkins’ “Black Box Fallacy” from Convergence Culture, in which companies beat each other about the head and ears to come up with the single appliance that will do everything that a consumer would want—games, tv, video, internet, chat, phone, launch the space shuttle, etc.  His argument, if I remember correctly, is that in the convergence moment, it’s not about getting everything in the same piece of tech, because we aren’t sure what all we’ll want combined.]  Yet, there are any number of web platforms that are struggling to do the same thing—get it all in the same place.  What becomes interesting, I suppose, is the particular functions that are included, and to what extent the particular platform encourages some uses over others.  This goes to Jenn’s guess (which seems right on to me) that students go to FB more often than Google Reader, and thus embedding an RSS app. in the former makes it more likely that they’ll keep up to date with class blog entries.  But they’re not going there for the RSS, right?  Which begs the question: why do you go to Facebook, and why do you go multiple times a day (so says the latest statistics)?

Ashley’s point is also one that’s close to my heart, and I’d wager is the one that’s had me in a dither about what kinds of information to include in my profile.  How do we structure information so that we maintain the kinds of relationships among each other that we want?  This is not just true of the teacher/student rapport, to be sure, but let’s take it as one example.   The more I thought debated about it yesterday, the more I began to wonder if these new technologies do the kind of damage that we worry that we do.  Or, in other words, is the dream of a perfect understanding of power relations among people a function of nostalgia?  When I was a grad student teaching composition ten years ago (well before the dominance of FB), I had some of the same difficulties navigating boundaries with my students that I  do now: when is it okay for us to contradict each other?  what is it that we’d like the other person to call us?  in what ways do institutional protocols enable and impede our ability to exchange honest ideas?  How do we ethically acknowledge and manage our biases, our influence, our responsibilities to individuals and communities?  In the last few years, I find myself leaning more and more toward the idea that these get explicitly negotiated on a case by case basis, and the less I expect people to know what I expect, the easier it is to articulate what I prefer (not that that keeps me from cringing when people call me “Ms. Middleton” or worse “Ms. Meyer” (my husband’s name).  That last one often sends me around the bend).  If that is indeed the case, then a FB page and its “friend” function aren’t going to change anything.  [And yet there’s a part of me that says two things in echo of Ashley: 1) I may be totally naive—it may change everything, and in ways I can’t even begin to contemplate  and 2) different student populations handle these kinds of interactions very differently.  This is not the kind of experiment I would undertake if I were, say, at a school with 25,000 students, with no time to know individual students.]

Last but not least, there’s an article in the Times today that connects a condominium in NY, designed to encourage voyeurism and exhibitionism, to the “glass house” of FB.   And like the people who have weighed in here, there are reasons for, against, and indifferent to choosing to exist in proximity to such a building.

More reports from the glass house as we go along.  Thanks to all for the food for thought!!

*Thanks for the tip about Dennis Jerz, Jenn.  I haven’t looked at his blog in awhile, but I’m going to go and see if he’s got anything up there on FB.

Caving in to Peer Pressure

All right. All right! I finally did it: I made a Facebook page.

It’s been on my list of things to do for quite some time, but a recent conversation about a former American Studies major was the incident that clinched it. I hear he’s doing great things—but I hear it second hand, because my colleague found out via Facebook. [You all don’t call…you don’t write!!] This is part of a larger notion as well: American Studies has a hard time with publicity. As a program, we’re just not that big or noisy, and so we can fall off the map sometimes.  And unlike many majors (say, biology or psychology), the term “American Studies” doesn’t immediately call to mind a field of study, and only a handful of students have had a course in it in high school.  Do we mean post-Cold War, rah-rah American nationalism?  Do we mean boo-hiss, America the imperialist?  Do we mean whoa, this is weirdest cultural formation–from confederacy to jazz, diners to nuclear bombs–ever?  I’d like it to be the case that a Facebook page would give students a way to understand what American Studies is, and who the majors are, and what they do.

But I enter into the Facebook-y world with a bit of trepidation, to tell you the truth. Only a year ago, I had a group of students tell me that they were freaked out by the presence of faculty members on FB. That resonated with me. Everyone should feel like he/she has a space where outsiders don’t watch over h/er and judge h/er.  If social networking is going to do something, let it not replicate, to the extent that we’re able to engage in its production, a digital form of Bentham’s prison.  We’re doing that just fine in physical interactions as they stand.  And yet, my intuition tells me that students and faculty members are figuring out new ways of negotiating this space, depending (as all pedagogical and human interactions do) on their specific quirks, habits, and ways of being.

For me, the “have a page but nothing on it” doesn’t seem right. Since joining gets you access to other’s pages, it feels a bit like voyeurism—people know you’re there, but they can’t see you. And at the same time, letting it all hang out there isn’t me either; it makes me deeply uncomfortable when I can’t judge reactions to information (and thus my deep-seated paranoia reveals itself). Hell, I don’t even really want to post a picture. I love privacy. I really really do. And you’d think that blogging would be counterproductive to that love, but it’s just not—or it doesn’t feel like it is. (Sadly, that’s about as media-articulate as I can be today.)

So, it remains to be seen how much and how long I’ll use the Facebook page. But I’d love to hear what works for others, and what makes them uncomfortable (or, as I just thought in my head and translated for consumption here “what totally skeeves people out”. Methinks I should not blog on weekends…)
All FB tips, concerns, or advice happily accepted. Comments are open for business.