Social Media

This post has been evolving for a while, but posting has reached a new urgency now that I’m facing the Year of the Dissertation. It’s also been spurred by my thoughts around Laura Portwood-Stacer’s three-part series for FLOW on media refusal, considering how decisions around dis/engagements with media are made, and helped by Amanda Ann Klein’s recent entry on her favorite uses of social media for 2012.

Long story short: I’m planning to blog and post more from my blog to social networks over the next year. I know, I know: stop the presses (so to speak), right? People make these kinds of announcements all the time about their intended use of social media with mixed success. Don’t grand plans for journal writing often work out the same way? I’ll explain more below, but generally this decision has come out of my experiments with social media, especially social networks, over the past four or five years, as well as the evolution of my career, as I’m looking toward the end of my doctoral program and beyond. In general, I want as much as possible to establish this blog–more than a Facebook or Twitter account, for example–as the base of operations for my academic web presence, so I’ll be engaging more with it over the next year. This post is meant to note that intention and give some explanation for the decision through a recounting of my relationships with social media.

I fully admit: I’m a fan of social media. It’s been a boon for me personally and professionally since I started blogging almost ten years ago. Personally, social media in its various forms has enabled continuous contact with all my far-flung friends and family, a good thing in most cases. It’s also helped to make my seemingly endless academic computer time a little less lonely, a little more tolerable. Professionally, it’s enabled me to meet many more people in my field than I could have in person or through other communications alone. It’s allowed me to keep up with what’s going on in the field, not just with academics at a distance, but also with my very busy colleagues closer to home. It’s helped me to think through, archive, and share ideas. Overall, it’s been more good than bad.

However, as a media scholar using social media, it’s been hard to figure out how much or little interaction to have, on what platforms, when and in what ways, to what purposes. I think it’s also important to note that increasingly, the assumption in media studies seems to be that academics are engaged with social media, whether through blogging or social networks. This seems particularly true for emerging academics, closer to grad school. However, that’s certainly not always the case. Some of that comes from what Portwood-Stacer calls a “conspicuous non-consumption,” wherein not participating creates a sense of distinction. But some of it also comes from people just not finding it necessary for them to do the work they want. I think it’s important to keep in perspective that there are plenty of great scholars–including many who have taught me and some with whom I’ve studied–who continue to make significant contributions to the field, who have little to no connections with social media. Again, this may be a generational issue, but the presumption of involvement suggests the development of a norm, even if there may not quite be one yet.

As alluded to above, I’m definitely receptive to the value of social media, feel the importance of examining and experimenting with it, in both research and teaching. At the same time, it can all get overwhelming. I personally find this in particular with social networks like Facebook and Twitter, where involvement often entails rapid responses. (However, unlike Amanda, I haven’t had the same problem with Pinterest, which I like in part because I can treat it mostly as a virtual bulletin board for myself. Others can peek in on what I’m posting and vice versa, but there seems to be less conversation or need for response, so it feels more like a one-way communication model to me that I can dip in and out of when I want.)

The challenges of communicating on Facebook and Twitter become more complicated with the ebb and flow of participation, an issue mentioned inĀ Portwood-Stacer’s series. Although there are some people who completely abstain from media use, she suggests that most drop in and out of different forms, for different reasons at different times. That’s definitely been the case for me, with Facebook at times but more often with Twitter.

Although I’ve been blogging since 2005, I held out on using social networks until 2008, when I joined Facebook–admittedly prompted by the realization that I was missing out on too many CMCL parties (don’t worry: I’ve caught up). Honestly, it was an eye-openingly positive experience, but overwhelmingly involved socializing more than networking. Prompted by a few colleagues interested in similar areas, I joined Twitter later with my jennyjonesie account, but I had so few connections at that time I dropped off from using it within a short period of time, and that seems to have set the pattern for my Twitter use since.

Between the two, my Facebook usage has generally been consistent, but Twitter, definitely spottier. Facebook probably has a leg up as my introductory form of social networking, but it’s also become like an address book for me. For better or for worse, all my people are there: my mom and my brother, that kid that lived down the street in tenth grade, my favorite British exchange students from undergrad, fellow media studies Ph.D. students I meet at different conferences. I can reach the largest number of people in all of my circles on a more regular basis, and if I need to check in with them, I can do so quickly without worrying about a phone number or email, in more than 140 characters.

The best part of using Twitter was the way that it expanded my sense of the field and my professional circles. I was astounded by the number of media studies people who were on Twitter when I became more active with it again in 2010. It was a distinctly separate professional world from what I was experiencing on Facebook, even with the few people I followed on both. There was generally more exchange of professional information, such as recommendations of blog posts and articles, and with some Tweeters, a sense of more personalization within that professional sphere. Using Twitter enabled me to meet some great colleagues I otherwise might never have known, and with whom I’ve become more familiar online and in real life. Again, that expansion of my professional circle has been immensely valuable.

However, there have been drawbacks for my use of Twitter as well. For one thing, I’ve never been a good multitasker. If I divide my attention too much I get nothing done. That applies to the difficulties of managing multiple social media accounts, as well as some of the specific challenges I had with Twitter. In my experience Twitter demands too much constant attention for me. I could–and did–easily find myself on it all day long. It might seem like a great idea to drop in quickly to note something from my reading in the morning, but if that spurred a convo, and then I found myself responding to another tweet, the threads could go on for so long that all other tasks would completely fall away. Essentially, it often felt that my engagement with my professional community in that forum was keeping me from the other work necessary to keep me attached to it. The last two times I dropped off from using Twitter, in 2011 and 2012, I tried to just check in after 5 pm, and both times, I would find that the platform just isn’t conducive to occasional updating. I would have hundreds of tiny posts to read through, often convos for which the commenting statute-of-limitations had effectively passed. So both times, I ended up leaving my main Twitter account rather than just cutting back.

In Portwood-Stacer’s terms, this seems to speak to concepts of addiction and asceticism in media refusal, feeling that use has gotten out of control and needs to be curbed for self-improvement. And while there may be some benefits to this form of refusal, there are consequences. Falling in and out of social media use in a professional context–especially as a media scholar, someone dedicated to the study of and engagement with these forms–jeopardizes credibility and relationships established in those circles. It’s awkward to get to know a bunch of people, socially and professionally, then fall off the face of the earth and not exactly know what to say the next time you see them at a conference. Especially when the main way you’re using a platform is to make connections professionally, dropping in and out of use makes you look like (gulp) a flake, and those kinds of impressions can’t be ignored, not only because of our current highly competitive job market, but also because of the community: I met some great people on Twitter, dedicated, interesting, and collegial scholars, who I hate feeling like I’m abandoning by leaving my main account on the platform.

Aside from those issues, it seems important to note the presence of “gates” in these social media. Obviously, a drawback to using Facebook as a primary social network is that it is a little bit like a gated community, where the user can choose through “friending” with whom to interact and how. You obviously limit your pool. This may seem to be less the case with Twitter, but in my estimation, the platform is still susceptible to its own gatekeeping functions through hierarchies of engagement. Retweets and responses, even just who does or doesn’t follow who, can often reveal which people and opinions have the most traction. Successful participation in the platform involves decoding the culture around those hierarchies, but that’s not always conducive to the larger community.

Despite the fact that I’m currently retiring my main Twitter account, this does not mean that I won’t be using the platform at all. On the contrary, I’ve found some very handy ways of using Twitter that are more singularly functional. For example, I use my jonescene Twitter to archive web articles for my current research; whenever I come across something applicable, I just send it to that account. I realize that there are other Internet archiving systems available, but for me, this seems to be the easiest to deliver and later access what can too often wind up being ephemeral material. In the past, I’ve also used that account to distribute blog posts, so that might be something I do more of again. I also have my indianajonesie account for teaching. Although I haven’t used it as much this past semester, I had found it useful for sending out reminders and posting announcements for class, as well as just sharing applicable but not necessarily essential items, like bonus information on a director or a TV show. I also discovered that I don’t like having all-purpose accounts, so I keep my research and teaching separate. This has extended to blogging as well.

So despite all the (often very legitimate) gripes that people have about Facebook, I have essentially decided to keep that as my main account for social networking. Although it has largely been a more personal forum for me, I’ve been using it increasingly for connecting with fellow academics. Some of that has come from the connections I made on Twitter that wound up transferring over to Facebook, but some of that has also come from the use of Facebook Groups, which Amanda lauds in her year-end review. Basically, using these groups has made Facebook a better place for both work and fun this year, and I agree with a lot of what Amanda recounts in her experiences. I was able to bring more of my worlds together through the platform in 2012, so I feel better about currently using it as my primary social network than I had in the few years before when I was also more regularly using Twitter.

Nonetheless, I want to be blogging more than purely social networking in my social media use in the future. As I increased my use of social networks since 2008, I decreased my blogging. Although I never completely stopped blogging, I’ve had so many fits and starts (some technical and industrial, which includes my move from Posterous to WordPress) that it never went as far as I wanted. It’s been disappointing, because I like having the dedicated and organized space for openly working through ideas.

The most significant issue for me is integrating blogging with social networking. It sounds so simple, and yet there’s a kind of bravado (bravada?) involved that often holds me back. Part of that relates to mixing the personal with the professional, but part also comes from insecurity around the professional. Like Amanda mentions in her post, “female academics are less comfortable with traditional modes of networking and often have trouble with promoting themselves aggressively as someone worth knowing.” Although interacting through social media is less “traditional” than, let’s say, a conference cocktail party, there’s a promotion and branding of the self in play that men still seem to be better trained for than women. I definitely fall prey to this. I’m a much better promoter of others than I am of myself. I love being part of the media studies community, but I have to work more intentionally at staking my claims in it and my contributions to it. As I prepare to move from student to (hopefully) faculty, this is something to develop, and something that I want to be better at developing in my students as well. Blogging and posting more from my blog will be part of that objective.

The shape that blogging will take though has definitely been informed by my use of social networks, especially Facebook. I like being able to post quick updates, to share links, and to archive quotes or images for future use, so not every entry (likely not even most) involves lengthy original writing. Over time I’ve learned that my favorite blogging feels a little like a scratchpad or a work in progress. It also feels a little more in tune with the rhythms and challenges of academic life. I can’t always write a thousand words a day, but I can post a little from what I’m reading or researching, to signpost what I’m doing and gesture at what might come, so ideally people can check in on that progress when I post or when it suits them. If things go as planned, you can continue to find me here.

I’m still in a few other places as well. You might find a few links to old Blogspot or Posterous sites. Aside from my still-active Twitter accounts, I’m also using Tumblr as my primary teaching blog, with some course blogs and some topical sites for future teaching as well. Also, before the SCMS conference this March, I’m planning to experiment more with Google+ as something that might be used in the SCMS Women’s Caucus, for which I am the grad rep, and I’ll be monitoring the caucus’ Twitter account as well. And who knows, maybe something on Facebook will stop working and something on Twitter will work better for me, and I’ll be making changes again.

Aside from the Portwood-Stacer and Klein posts mentioned throughout, I’d also like to note some other blogging colleagues who I’ve found to be great examples. In the larger Media Studies universe, there’s been Anne Helen Petersen at Celebrity Gossip, Academic Style, Alyx Vesey at Feminist Music Geek, and Phoebe B. at Girls Like Giants, who are all good at bridging the academic with the popular and connecting with others in a variety of fora. Closer to home, there’s Jason Sperb at Jamais Vu, who’s been effective at using his blog to define himself and his research interests, as well as providing regular updates of works in progress, courses, and publications. And last but not least, there’s Eric Harvey at Marathonpacks, who’s been not only a great example for writing of all kinds and for active engagement in his research, but also a great supporter of my writing and ideas throughout our time together at IU.

So even though this is a shockingly long post (for me), there’s still more to say, some from me, some from you. I’d be interested in hearing how others have learned to navigate social media in relation to their work in media studies, whether it’s a primary research area or a tool to connect with fellow academics. Feel free to share in comments.