Tradition
Watching the Primaries

How Social Should I Be?

MacCall's last question gave me pause.  We were at the end of my last online lecture for his health librarianship class, and I'd been answering questions on a wide variety of topics having to do with academic medical libraries in particular, and librarianship in general.  I think this was the sixth one of these I've done using Wimba -- the students and I can hear each other, they can see my powerpoint, we can do chat, we just can't see each other.  A little awkward at first, but I've become quite comfortable with it, and the students are great.

MacCall does an excellent job of incorporating the various "new tools" into his courses.  The students all keep blogs, they use del.icio.us to track the stuff they're reading.   He doesn't "teach" the tools -- he just makes sure that everybody uses them.

We were just about at the end of our allotted time, and I asked if he had a last question.  It turned out to be, "What social networking or web 2.0 tools do you use in your non-work life?"

"Non-work life"?  That's not a clear concept for me anymore.  It was many years ago that I realized I no longer thought of my life as being divided between "work" and "non-work" in anything like the traditional sense.    The boundaries are porous.

I don't mean to imply that I am "always working".  I've said before that I probably don't put in more hours per week than a good library director did twenty-five years ago.  It's just that those hours are spread across the 24/7 continuum in a less structured way.  Case in point -- Mr. Tomcat was in town the last couple of days for a meeting at EBSCO.  He stopped by the library on Tuesday for a tour, and Lynn and I had dinner with him last night.  Conversation topics ranged easily across issues related to journal licensing, the value of archived backfiles, the economic challenges of open access, the new Fishman acoustic guitar amp, changes to the setlist for the May Pigs gig, and what fun it would be to get his daughter together with Josie.    Was this my work life or my non-work life?

Take any typical day when I'm not traveling.  I'm up before 6:00, writing in my journal.  Some of that writing is very personal and some of it is planning for the things I'm going to be doing that day.  I'll take a break and catch up on email, most of which (although not all) is work-related.  Maybe I'll write a blog post, which may or may not have to do with libraries.  I'll spend most of the day at the university, although depending on what's going on I may have errands to run or other obligations that intrude.  I don't keep regular office hours.  In the evening, I may spend more time working on projects, catching up with email -- or not.  The technology gives me the flexibility to tend to things when it is convenient for me.  I'm not locked into an artificial time schedule.  My "worklife" and "non-worklife" flow easily into one another.  The range of topics on my blog is a reflection of that.

Still, I could see what MacCall was driving at.  The irony for me as someone who believes strongly in the importance of all of these social networking tools and, in particular, their application to library practice, is that I'm not a very sociable guy myself.  Never have been.  I've got minimal profiles on facebook, myspace and linkedin, and I'll generally accept friend requests for these.  But I've never asked anybody to be a friend on any of them and I hardly use them for communicating with anybody.  I've only posted two or three pictures to Flickr and it's highly unlikely that I'll ever send anything to YouTube.  I have no interest in exploring Second Life.  I use IM extensively at work and with a couple of friend/colleagues outside the library, but that's it.  I don't have a blackberry or other smart phone.  (I do have three iPods --four if you count the dead one -- and I'm pretty intrigued by the iPhone, but I don't have one yet). 

My online life is simply a reflection of the rest of my life.   The social networking tools haven't had much impact on me because I've never been that interested in doing a lot of social networking, whether online or in person.

From a professional standpoint, I think it is critically important to understand all of these tools, how they work and how they might be used to advantage.  But personally?  I'm just as happy sitting up in my study with my guitar, a couple of good books, a hardbound journal, and a really nice fountain pen.

 

Comments

Tom Roper

How interesting Scott, for I would describe myself as socially maladroit, yet I find myself happily using every social networking tool I can lay my hands on. This may be because I'm a victim of technological fashion, but I think it is more that there is a way in which the 'social' part of social networking online is completely different, and in some way safer, from the way one does it in person.
I would never dream of seizing a cocktail party acquaintance and forcing them to look at photographs, or boring them by describing how wonderful my musical taste is: but I think nothing of exposing these things on Flickr or with Last.fm, and when, as happens occasionally, strangers find things that delight them, I cope perfectly well.

T Scott

I suspect that your experience is fairly typical -- I can relate to it somewhat in that I am much happier using email than I am using the telephone. I often feel awkward on the phone, but with email I have a bit more time and distance to compose my thoughts.

I would imagine that for many people who might describe themselves as "socially maladroit" the social networking tools provide wonderful ways to reach out to others and get to know people virtually that they wouldn't otherwise feel able to do.

As an aside, perhaps I just haven't spent enough time in your company but I would never describe you as "socially maladroit"!!

Marcus

I always think I should update my LinkedIn profile, and never do. My main use for Facebook is to play Scrabble--although it is fun to keep track of friend's comings and goings.

I still read the paper in print, and have yet to catch on to the glories of text messaging on my cell phone. In writing all this, I'm marveling at my semi-Luddite tendencies!

Professionally, though, we do need to understand and utilize all the "Web 2" tools (as annoying as that buzzword is). It will be interesting to see where this all leads.

MarkD

This thread is very interesting. There is so much here, that I have found myself writing several different comments and then deleting each one. There is so much to say, I am not sure what to say - if you know what I mean.

I think I will retreat to my old refrain. The technology offers so many possibilities and is changing so fast that society's conventions have fallen behind. These tools will not really be fully utilized until we learn how to incorporate them into our lives. It is my belief that process will take a generation or more.

Tom, your comment hit upon two very interesting aspects of the social networking tools; 1) the anonymity of the computer screen and 2) security. The tools allow us to put a bit of distance between ourselves and our friends and loved ones. They free us to express ourselves in a way that we may find uncomfortable face to face. Perhaps this explains why they have proven so popular. This strikes me as a back to the future sort of moment. Maybe these tools are serving the function letters used to serve. Maybe this is a return to social interaction norms in a time before the telephone. The telephone ended our ability to stop and reflect before reacting. The social networking tools once again allow us to gather our thoughts yet stay in touch. How interesting, I hadn't thought of that before.

But then there is the issue of security and feeling safe. On this point, I disagree with Tom. These tools aren't safe at all. In fact, the social networks are a dangerous place. The very anonymity that makes Tom feel safe also offers protection to the criminally minded. There are growing horror stories about stalking and identity theft using the social networks.

T Scott

Mark -- I think you've hit it exactly right that part of this is a matter of social conventions not having caught up to the capabilities of the technology. We quite literally do not know what we're doing, and I agree that it'll take a generation or two for things to shake out. In the meantime, we can see lots of benefits and lots of negatives. The amount of noise that blogs generate is nearly overwhelming. (I'm mulling over a post on how dramatically the internet has failed to live up to the early hype about how it would improve citizen democracy). But I keep dabbling because I continually find things that I think are useful and helpful.

And the safety thing is, indeed, two-edged. It's clear from some recent surveys that kids who are growing up digital have very different notions of the relationships between their private and public selves from those who are somewhat older. And figuring out how to navigate that morass is something else that will take a good bit of time.

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