Are Our Social Media Behaviors Driven by Personal Preferences or Opportunity Structures?

How a post from Bryan Alexander about turning 51 made me question some of my own thinking.

February 12, 2018

“...I don’t belong to a university, and that my wife and I live in a very remote, underpopulated area.  Social media – and I mean that in the broadest sense, as in old Web 2.0, including podcasts and blogs, plus email and chat – is a lifeline for connections professional, emotional, political, and social.  The rewards are great.”

Bryan Alexander, Turning 51: entering the quinquagenarian age. (2/11/18)

I’m not a fan of social media. Mostly, I find social media to be shallow and performative. As well as a potentially huge time suck.

I’d rather read a book.

But what if I’m wrong about social media?

The quote above from Bryan Alexander shows another side of social media. One where social media is an enabler of geographic choice and professional independence.

Bryan is on Twitter @BryanAlexander (43.7K Tweets, 11.2K followers), and a few other platforms (Flickr, Instagram, and I think Facebook) where I’m not.  He is on LInkedIn.  Each week (or so it seems) Bryan hosts a future of higher education discussion on Shindig, the Future Trends Forum.  (All archived on YouTube.) . And if that is not enough, you can sign up for Bryan’s monthly Future Trends in Technology and Education report.  

From this list I’m sure that I’m missing some of Bryan’s social media activity. And I have not even touched his traditional work of speaking, convening, hosting, and writing articles, chapters, and books.

Where I find social media alienating, Bryan (and perhaps you as well) is able to leverage social media as a tool for learning and connecting.

I’ve never thought about the idea that social media can substitute for propinquity and density.

Could it be that social media could enable participation in a networked profession for those living outside traditional organizational and geographic networks?

Rather than working for an organization, is it possible to work for a network?

Despite Bryan’s example, I have a hard time imagining ever wanting to invest huge amounts of time and energy into a variety of social media platforms.

What gives me joy is reading and writing. These are two activities that I primarily do for myself.

Through reading books and then writing (often about books) I make sense of the world. Reading and writing require blocks of uninterrupted time - investments that feel incompatible with social media presence.

Still, Bryan’s post and his example have caused me to think about my own anti-social media biases.

If I were an independent operator living physically apart from a critical mass of colleagues, would I replace my in-person conversations with social media interactions?

Can an active social media presence yield the same advantages of organizational and physical closeness?

Are independent scholars, or those affiliated with a university but marginalized in terms of status or job security or institutional influence, more likely to use social media to discover and interact with their communities of practice?

Do social media behaviors have less to do with personal preferences, and more with opportunity structures?

Do you share my anti-social media bias?


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