In an effort to get back to deeper thinking and broader sharing of resources, I’m rethinking my professional site and how I use it.
A Quick Trip Down Memory Lane
There was a time in my professional development, around the early to mid-2000s, where there existed a strong, vibrant community of online thinkers and doers in library and information science (LIS). Some of these writers made a career out of it, while others got 15 minutes of fame; many did it for themselves or just to be a part of something. It was lively, and I’d argue that much of the user-centered services philosophy exhibited in librarianship (especially public librarianship) these days has as much to do with the thinking and doing found on those websites. Sadly, many of them are now defunct or lay dormant.
I followed those “blog people” at their sites, on Facebook, and eventually on Twitter. I even kept track of new postings at these sites and at news outlets using RSS feeds and Google Reader (rest in peace, Reader). These things combined helped create a robust network of resources and an actual social network of real people who became mentors, friends, colleagues, and bosses.
Somewhere along the way, I changed. I stopped the informal writing, I stopped the resource sharing, and so did everyone else—or so it seems to me. Much of this, I think, can be pinned on the ever-changing nature of what was then called Web 2.0 or the social web . Apps and sites blew up in popularity and then just as quickly died. Social activity also seemed to become centralized on Facebook and then Twitter.
My relationship with Facebook was always a fractured one, as I never really saw the benefit of developing a private social network given how much intellectual stimulation and professional growth I received from the public network I had curated. Twitter, then, was more my speed. The stats say I’ve been a member since 2008.
Once the blogs had gone mostly quiet and resource social networking sites, like Delicious , died off, Twitter became the central place to connect, share ideas, and pass around useful resources. And it worked for me, especially as I was pursuing my PhD and attempting to keep up with the burgeoning field of learning analytics. Then 2016 happened.
A World Like No Other I’ve Known
The build up to the general election in November 2016 was hyper-politicized yet somewhat distributed. Republicans had 50 candidates running (ok, I exaggerate), while the Democrats had only two viable candidates. The Twitter conversations pivoted toward politics. And I wouldn’t have it any other way: a good electorate is an invested electorate. You want voters to be engaged, to share their beliefs, to attempt to persuade through debate. It’s good for democracy, regardless of whether or not the conversations are mediated via some technological platform.
When Trump won the Republican primary election and moved toward the general, that’s when the tone shifted. It doesn’t seem fair to me to characterize Twitter as something that morphed into a hyper-political state because of the upcoming November election; I think it was always there. However, the rhetoric changed. People were stirred up, and rightfully so because the stakes were high. Conversations became less about practice and scholarship and resource sharing; they became more about political talking points and action items.
The history is well known: Donald J. Trump was elected. Since then, the topics of the Twitter conversations have mostly stayed the same, and the tone seems to have become more caustic, reactive even. Perhaps that reflects my network’s collective lived experience; your network may be reacting differently to today’s political landscape.
Fast forward to mid-April, 2020. I think I’m in the fourth or fifth week of quarantining due to the COVID-19/coronavirus epidemic. The unexpected and, as we are experiencing, unplanned for is happening: the economy is shut down, millions have lost their jobs at an unprecedented rate, and the infection and death rates are staggering. In the United States alone:
- 632,220 total confirmed cases;
- 22,871 total confirmed deaths;
- and all fifty states have reported cases .
Like everyone else, this experience has affected me personally and professionally. I feel quite lucky to state that things are quite stable in my life, but I know for a fact this isn’t the case for close friends and colleagues. And it’s clear by reading and interacting in my online social network that COVID-19 is what’s driving everyone’s thoughts and behaviors, as it rightfully should. Though, it’s also clear that this pandemic has affected how we engage in constructive conversation. Safety and security are at the front of mind, and that colors how we engage with one another. Mix that in with a high degree of stress and concern about the political handling of a crisis and the country’s political future and you get a potent mix. I’ve seen more hot takes and snarky responses than I’d like, and I’ve been disappointed in myself when I’ve acted the same way.
Rethinking Online Participation
We all engage in online social networks due to personal reasons. We expect certain experiences and desire certain types of interactions. My goals may not be your goals, and vice versa. And I’m finding that the network on which I’ve relied for information and happily participated in isn’t working for me during these unprecedented times. Just writing that previous sentence sounds like I’m ascribing blame or stating that I’ve been let down by someone or some group of people, which is not true. No one owes me a thing, but it’s time for me to reconsider how I can still interact with the network I’ve developed (or who find me) in a constructive way.
My intellectual efforts and energies are focused on those things that build a successful tenure case in my school, namely 1) grant writing and 2) publishing research in respected journals (in that order). While I do this work with the hope of improving professional practice and enhancing the critical and theoretical views of the subject matter I study, I often do it selfishly. What matters more for me professionally and personally is that I earn tenure and promotion, at least as this point in my life. Given current events and my thinking on social media, I think there’s an opportunity to engage online in a more productive and constructive manner.
A Reimagined Site
I’m going to pull back from Twitter and reengage in the world of blogging, even if that’s not as en vogue as it used to be. I’ve given new life to this site in order to make it 1) more appealing and 2) more valuable for you, whoever you are. I want this site to be more of a permanent resource hub, a place where I can aggregate and share resources like I used to. Perhaps more importantly, I want to be freed from the constraints of 280 characters and the always daunting nature of producing a scholarly work for publication. There’s an in-between space that enables deep thinking and engagement, and I want to explore what that can do for my intellectual development and how I interact with my community.
I’m going to push myself to think and write at a deeper level more frequently, and I’m going to share resources I find in a more organized way. The first will be accomplished by sharing updates. The second will be done by strategically curating reading lists. I will still remain on Twitter, and these things will auto-post to my account. Perhaps you’ll find them useful and you’ll share them. I hope you do.