My history with social media is complex.
Although I used AOL Instant Messenger in middle school, I didn’t use the ever-booming MySpace during high school, and I was late to the Facebook game, joining in my sophomore year of college. I was so late that one of the first posts that appeared on my wall came from a high school friend and said something like “David, you’re alive!! I mean—you finally joined Facebook!” However, after a few weeks, I deactivated my account. I was very skeptical on a personal level of this new technology and all its power to reconnect me with people who were no longer actually a part of my life.
After a few more weeks, I joined Facebook again, giving it a second try. Over the next few years I began to enjoy the way Facebook allowed me to (1) easily make online connections with those I knew in real life (so as to know about offline events, etc.), and (2) reconnect with people and enjoy having an ephemeral sense of connectedness to my past and the people who defined it.
Facebook, and all social media are vastly disrupting technologies. They fundamentally change the way we think about our past, our lives, our life’s timeline, our friendships, and so many other foundational aspects of our personhood, both as an individual and as a member of communities.
Perhaps you’ve had similar mixed feelings about some of your social media presenses. Perhaps they take too much time or energy; perhaps they feel too busy and hyper-connected for your personality; perhaps cyber security makes you worry about what you reveal; or perhaps the thing that really bothers you is how that one person you barely know comments on all your posts. Each of us has concerns—big and small—that form for us a unique, complex history and relationship with the digital spaces we regularly inhabit.
This is why one of my research interests is how social media impacts identity- and community-building processes in people’s lives: because I recognize these effects at work in my own life. I called these technologies “disruptive.” I felt this disruption in my being and in my social life. I observed this disruption in my peers and in my students from when I first taught first-year college students. Due to these personal observations about myself and those around me, as well as what I’ve seen in the qualitative research I’ve been conducting in grad school, I find it imperative to mix our excitement about social media with a critical eye towards it. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with the disruptions social media brings about, necessarily. But these changes to how we function individually and in communities are significant, and it would help us to consider them.
Teaching students writing skills, and critical thinking skills in relation to technology and social media is also a key element of my scholarly identity. I really enjoy interacting with students, mentoring them, challenging them. Stuart Selber’s “critical literacy” (from his 2004 book, Multiliteracies for a Digital Age) has stuck with me as I try out new pedagogies in the courses I teach—striving to help students see technology from new, critical perspectives they have not considered before.
As I develop my pedagogical skills, I’ve had to think beyond Facebook to keep relevant in my social media pedagogies, even though Facebook is still my most-used social site/app. If I just talk about Facebook without mentioning Snapchat, Instagram, Reddit, and YikYak, my students get disconnected on a personal level. Because many instructors use social media with the goal of helping their students feel that the writing they do on social media is writing, it’s important to use and discuss technologies that students themselves use. As scholars and instructors, our will to aid students in developing critical understandings of social media becomes imperative when we consider the complexity of our personal and collective histories and current ways of relating to social media spaces.
I am so excited to serve as a DRC Fellow! This year, I am interested in helping with upcoming Blog Carnivals—one on digital publishing (CFP posted today!) and one on social media—with the hope of getting the awesome DRC community involved in creating meaningful conversations for the Computers and Writing community. I am also excited to build community among the scholars and teachers in our disciplines though adding to our digital composition lesson plans and expanding our wiki to include more professionalization resources that may especially help new scholars become more conversant in the field.
Thanks for your interest in my background—please reach out at [at]dcoad on Twitter or by email at dcoad[at]ucdavis[dot]edu!