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.

4 thoughts on “Caving in to Peer Pressure

  1. I’m excited about your entrance into the Facebook community. Welcome to the dark side!

    Seriously though, I understand your concern about both the intrusion upon the younger crowd (I learned of a young family member’s brush with the law before her parents and she has since gone “private”) as well as the voyeuristic notion of “letting it all hang out.” What I can tell you is that once the Facebook doors opened to all – not simply college students – the community began to mature like wildfire. Could we expect anything less fluid from the www?

    What prompted me to join was an article I read on Scobelizer’s blog (although I can no longer find it with a quick search). He had praised Facebook’s connectivity structure for drawing a large number of tech geeks depending upon the quick clicks for business connections and resources. I have also learned that journalistic communities are beginning to sweep in… like my “testy copy editor” friend from the Washington Post. Having lost touch, Facebook has pumped fresh life into our playful banter.

    Best of all, but of course, is the WordPress app. Every update to your blog (and comments, if you so choose) is also updated on your Facebook page, eliminating the need to maintain two spaces with fresh content at once.

    I also like iBooks and Flixter for tracking what I’ve read or watched, sharing reviews and comparing taste with others (although I’m dreadfully behind in updates). Silly, I know, but to suggest a good read requires “chucking a book” at someone. Sometimes that just feels good.

  2. My whole trepidation: I already have enough issues with students’ lack of formality / apparent inability to understand that I am a professional / desire to understand me as a friend/mom rather than an authority figure. However you want to trope it, it boils down to my students having an utterly different relationship to me (in their minds) than I would have ever had, or wanted to have, with my undergrad faculty.

    For me, having a Facebook page would chip away at the difference between me and my students, and while I get the whole egalitarian classroom thing, I still want them to understand me as a grownup, not a peer.

  3. I am one of those folks you mention who has a page with nothing on it because I only ever use it to experiment with RSS features that I can integrate into/implement in my class. E.g. having students subscribe to the class blog through the facebook RSS app, so that each time they log into facebook, which they do more frequently than logging into google reader (I’m just guessing here…), they get the updates on class assignments, announcements, etc. But it’s interesting think about the idea of it freaking them out that I have a page, because I actually use my page in class to demonstrate how to set up the app.

    Last year at CCCC there was a panel on blogs (Dennis Jervis’s students, actually), and the Q&A after turned to a discussion on facebook. The instructor sitting behind me told of using facebook pretty heavily to interact with and communicate with students. So, in her case, it seemed students enjoyed having her there. (Sorry I can’t remember more details to the conversation or how exactly she used fb).

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