July 22, 2009

Should Untenured Professors Facebook?

Why would an untenured professor open up and actively use a Facebook account? There seems to be a lot of buzz going around about the pitfalls of Facebook for junior faculty. So, I will dedicate this blog entry to why I have chosen to join the ranks of the Facebook users.

One of my main reasons for using Facebook is that, like many college professors, I live in the middle of nowhere, far from most people who are important to me. Now, Lawrence, Kansas does have its charm as a college town. Nevertheless, I am a city girl at heart. And, if I can’t be in my hometown, Washington, DC, at least I can vicariously experience urban life through the status updates of my friends and family who still live there. Through this virtual portal, I feel a sense of connection to the city I am from. For me, feeling rooted in DC is important, even though I haven’t lived in DC in nearly a decade.

I also can use Facebook to get through the somewhat isolating work of academics. One way I do this is through online writing challenges. I post as my status update: “I am about to shoot for three hours of writing today… Anyone care to join me?” Within minutes, I might have a colleague from Texas, another from Kansas, and yet another from Chicago or DC join me. Later in the day, we can compare our accomplishments. Accountability is one of the best ways to get writing done, so this is a great strategy for me.

Although Facebook has its merits as a procrastination tool, I also can use it to save time. For example, when I wish to share a picture of my family, I don’t have to go through my email contact list and make a decision about who wants to see yet another picture of me and the kids. Instead, I post the pics on Facebook and whoever wishes to see them is free to do so, or not. I also don’t feel the need to email my Facebook “friends” to tell them I am still alive, as they are quite aware of that via my status updates.

Facebook also gives me constant access to a world of expertise. If I want to know which technological device can save me time, I post a request to Facebook. Within hours, I will have a slew of suggestions. If I am looking for a movie to show to my class on hip-hop and sexuality, I can post a request for advice, and, shortly, I will have a laundry list of suggestions.

Facebook also works as a news filter. Why sift through the news about the uprising in Honduras, when my Facebook friends who are area experts post links to news articles with the heading: “A must-read about the Honduran coup.” Others might post links with the heading: “Best article I have read on the Sotomayor hearing.” There’s the article to read on that one! And, I can return the favor when I come across articles in my areas of expertise.

Facebook is also a networking tool, and any academic should know the importance of networking. If I have an article published, I can post a link to it, and the 100-plus academics who I count among my “friends” have access to my latest work. I also advertise this blog on Facebook. More than half of the people who access this site access it through Facebook.

Of course, if you, like me, use Facebook for professional as well as personal purposes, it is wise to be judicious about what you post. So, I have a few rules I abide by. 1) No disparaging students on Facebook. 2) No allusions to illegal or unethical activity, even as a joke. 3) No direct attacks on my place of employment or those people who employ me. 4) No personal attacks. 5) Don’t post anything I wouldn’t be comfortable with the whole world seeing. I also monitor my wall, and delete comments from “friends” that I find distasteful.

Overall, I find Facebook to be a useful tool to keep me connected to my friends and family, whether I am in Lawrence, Kansas, Kingston, Jamaica, or Washington, DC.

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