There’s a webinar that I do on creating and managing your online presence as an academic (you can download it here and read the companion blog series I wrote). This most recent iteration of the webinar had a number of participants ask the same question over and over again: Is it really that bad if I’m not online at all? They wanted me to reassure them that it was ok not to be online. It seemed to me to be a pretty strange question to ask on a webinar focused exclusively being online, and it represents an interesting shift in how the question has been asked in the past: Do I need to be online? Why?
It’s Digital Writing Month this month (or Academic Writing Month or Novel Writing Month; pick your writing poison/pleasure). I’ve participated every year in some way, shape, or form since the beginning (which, in all fairness, was two years ago). But even before that, you could say that my digital writing output has been quite…prolific (111K tweets and counting!). I love digital writing, and I think that I’m living proof that having a strong digital presence can be a very powerful and positive professional experience.
And there are legitimate reasons not to be as visible and engaged as I am online, if at all. There are cases where increased visibility can impact your safety in very real ways. But the problem is, unfortunately, especially if you work in higher education, you are already online. Your university will usually list on the department webpage and directory. Conferences list your name and affiliation and even email address in conference programs online. Publications, even if they aren’t open access will almost always have a table of contents online which, once again, list your professional affiliation next to your name.
This doesn’t sound so bad, and it isn’t. But the question is, for me, is that the only thing that you want people to see or know about you when they (inevitably) Google you? And do you want to make it difficult for them to find the disparate online traces of yourself? Or leave them to weave a narrative on their own about who you are based on said search?
Part of having an online presence, for me, is that I’ve always felt constrained by the academic letter and CV. I am more than publications and conference, more than a formulaic letter. I wanted to bring together all of the pieces of who I am professionally and animate them into a more interesting and compelling narrative.
So, no, you don’t have to be online. And, no, nothing particularly terrible will happen to you if you’re not actively online in some way. But the question then becomes, what is it that you want to accomplish professionally? And does being online help you? I don’t expect anyone to be online the way I’m online (I’m an outlier, to be sure), but to simply wish away needing a web presence of some kind is to ignore the fact that you already have one whether you like it or not.
Why not make one that you like and that is like you?
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