A Facebook reflection…buyer beware.

Okay, so I have been hesitant to use Facebook for quite a while. 

(Before I get to Facebook, you have to understand that I come from the generation where if we kept a personal diary, we bought one of those cutsie ones with a lock and key, then worked to keep it hidden from older siblings….Me?  I didn’t have one.  I was not about to share my innermost thoughts on paper-with anyone). 


Now, I blog and have begun to create an ever-enlarging digital footprint (some would call it a personal learning network/environment, but that’s another post). 


And to the point of this post:  Facebook. 

Something about Facebook has just never “felt right” to me.  It has the same “feel” as when I first used Twitter…that sense of voyeurism (I mean “a prying – and uninvited – observer….” Not the other type of voyeurism!)  ….that I was looking at and seeing things there that really were not meant for me to see.  But wait, these things are on the INTERNET.  That’s a pretty public place, isn’t it?


I kept (and still keep) wondering WHY???  And I admit I still don’t really “get” it.  Call it generational, or whatever.  My self-disclosure frame was constructed long ago.  Central to it was this seemingly small piece of background info. My mother used to warn me when I was a teenager and about to go out: “Never do or say anything you don’t want to testify about in court.”  Pretty darn good advice-it stuck with me.  See, I still remember and quote it all these years later.  The same could apply to what you post/say/share/divulge/disclose into VERY public digital spaces where you participate.  Hence my reticence to join a community where self-disclosure in microscopic detail is the order of the day.  Not to mention all of the privacy issues raised by the aggregation and sharing of the same information to third parties…who is benefiting here? (Also another post…)


I still marvel at how something first created by college students – way back in 2004- to make it possible for fellow students at Harvard to get to know each other online could wind up being the mega-online-conglomerate that is Facebook today.  Just a couple of years back I kept hearing fits and snatches about Facebook in relation to our own connectivity and connection with incoming Freshmen and invited our then Dean of Students to come to my freshman seminar course to teach them about the dangers of too much self-declaration in Facebook.  She showed us this video:  Does What’s in Facebook stay in Facebook? This video has been online for a while now, but I still find it quite unnerving. 


And even though I hear students and my own children talking about Facebook often, I still didn’t join in-until very recently.  I have listened as some of my colleagues here share their own uses of Facebook in their teaching…creating “private” groups to connect with their students and push out course updates.  I have seen interesting examples of institutions using Facebook to remind students about important information like academic advising deadlines, etc. This came along side reading about the “creepy treehouse”effect, nicely discussed at Jared Stein’s blog, Flexknowlogy.  And I marvel at the fact that some are quite willing to use and encourage this application – knowing all of the behind-the-scenes data aggregation that is going on – who balk at the notion of using tools/products from other large here-to-remain-unnamed corporate entities.   


In spite of the fact that “this is where our students are” am I sold?  Not quite yet.  I continue to be quite concerned over the privacy and data mining issues.  And I think that we the Facebook-using-public have only minimal understanding about what is actually going on when we cheerfully upload and tag our photo-of-the-day, join/fan causes, buy stuff, share our music preferences, find long lost friends, etc….Some of us became alarmed anew when yesterday things like this this circulated around the Twitterverse:  Anger Greets Facebook Terms of Service Change”.  Still want to play??


I will admit that over the very few weeks that I have been using Facebook– sparingly – I have been able to connect long-distance with family and friends I might not otherwise be interacting with (especially not on a daily basis!).  I even used Facebook chat this morning for the first time.  There is indeed value in staying in touch.  But I have to say that the porous boundaries and blending of life compartments – family with work with friends all together in one location – leaves me feeling a bit exposed on all counts.  I’m not quite sure what to make of it. 


If you are a “seasoned” Facebook fan/user I apologize for pointing out what is probably old news to you.  But I suspect there are others like me who are still deciding – cautiously – whether to embrace this social net experience or not.  If you decide to join in, be careful and inform yourself about what you are getting into: 

1.      Ummm…you might actually read the Terms of Use  before you Accept.

2.      Take a look here at a Fortune article, How Facebook is Taking Over Our Lives

3.      Another:  10 Privacy Settings Every Facebook User Should Know, by Nick O’Neill


This probably won’t be the last time I write about Facebook.  I am surprised by and about it every day.  For now, today…this is my take on it. 

Can it be useful for some purposes?  Yes, absolutely. 

Are there worrisome issues one needs to be aware of?  Yes, too. 

Will I keep my account?  For now. 

But I don’t intend to expand my “Profile” much beyond what it is right now.  So, if you want to know if I am “in a relationship”, what music I like, what my favorite movie is, what my favorite color is, what book I am reading….I might tell you.  Just not on Facebook.


Twitter addendum…

I keep running in to conversations about Twitter – both online and in person….not sure why it is suddenly the “trendy” thing to talk about. I have even been asked about it at home over the dinner table by the less geeky/uninitiated members of my family.  Hmmmm, how to explain Twitter in 25 words or less and without looking at it or trying it out? 

Take a look at Twitter for yourself!

Take a look at Twitter for yourself!










Anyway, just since my last post a few nice pieces have been shared to Twitter…about Twitter…and I think they are worth taking a look at – especially if you are still forming an opinion and have not yet decided to participate:

1.  Steven Levy on the Burden of Twitter, Wired Magazine
2.  State of the Art: Twitter is What you Make It, NYT
3.  Teaching Carnival 3.1 , New on The Salt Box, blog of Jason B.  Jones at Central Connecticut State University – scroll down to see links to Twitter uses in teaching and learning


What I learned on Twitter today…

What I learned on Twitter today…

I’ve had this post “cooking” for a while now…and it comes up again and again every time I try to explain to non-twittering colleagues why I bother?  I am finally writing it and collecting pieces into this post – containing what is admittedly old news to many seasoned Twitter users. Anyway, here goes for the new and the seasoned:  my take on Twitter.


Okay, when I was first exposed to Twitter last year at the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative Annual Meeting, I thought it was amusing, but could not see that it would be of any use to me.  (Here’s a little Twitter in Plain English intro if totally new to you.) Just another trendy app to learn and toss…Alan Levine (aka CogDog) put it better last year with his Twitter Life Cycle graph.  Thoughts like “…this is the most ridiculous waste of time I can imagine – blogging in 140 characters or less??”…kept crossing my mind.  But, not to be outdone by my professional community of fine colleagues who were, in fact, twittering faithfully at ELI (like @Brian Alexander-Note: when you reply to something said on Twitter, the reply is preceded with @whomever…so your Twitter identity becomes @your userID/name).  So I am @cljennings) – even updating in real time DURING sessions…I created an account.  



nothing happened.

I tried, I really tried to like it.

But having no recent photo to upload (that brown square with 2 blue “eyes” kept staring back at me – the mark of a newbie), not knowing how to find anyone to “follow”, and generally missing the point – I didn’t tweet for many, many months.  I read some jokes about the “fail whale” and smirked…. “See…useless”!


Then, early last fall I got an email from Twitter saying that my colleague on campus was “following” me!  Following me?????



How did he find me? 

There was absolutely NOTHING there for him to follow!


Well, I do try to stay as informed about new tools and apps as I possibly can – in service to my colleagues here and in constant and perpetual hope that I’ll find something to share with someone who will then find it useful to inform/enhance their teaching…


I felt pressured to tweet.  “I have to go back there now…I have to learn this.  And I have to understand “why?”

I have to SAY something! 


I started trying to find people I had met at ELI, like @Bryan Alexander, @George Siemens and @Gardner Campbell.  I looked to see who they were following. I started following more people. (I didn’t find that many around here).  I have gradually over time increased the number of people I “follow” to 144.  Not many by some Twitter standards, but I can assure you that the people I am following often/usually have 140 characters worth of important things to say.  I have tried to emulate them…very tentatively at first…and I am still not sure that I contribute as much as I glean from Twitter. 


Pretty soon, I found myself on a list (in the UK no less!  How’d that happen??!!):  Directory of Learning Professionals (& Others) on Twitter (Twitter DOES share your information…but I digress, more on that later).  I logged in and joined the conversation going on during the fall campaign debates (the “back channel”!)  I watched as colleagues wrote micro-bursts of thought from conferences they were attending, and I sent out a few from the EDUCAUSE Annual Conference last October.  I followed the hadron collider (@CERN) last fall (I wanted to be one of the first to know if the world would end!  I have signed up for newstweets from Google, PBS, local new feeds, etc…I’m not going to link to them all – I want you to look for yourself!)  🙂   There are indeed connectivities made possible by Twitter that could never have occurred before.  Real time sharing…  Real time conversation…and not via usual channels.


I…WAS…HOOKED… There is truly not a day that I don’t learn something new and immediately useful.  Like today, for instance, I got this link to a wonderful piece on Twitter itself-from Twitter.  Most mornings its:   start up the computer, get the coffee, and see what’s new on Twitter to start the day.  Some people do literally answer the Twitter prompt:  What are you doing?”  Others are constantly pouring in news stories, new ideas, information, links, photos, and writings…all things I learn from.  Sometimes people ask the “Twitterverse” questions…in a “Twitterpoll”…always interesting to watch.  No, I don’t follow every link to every resource.  I have learned which people post things worth exploring.  And yes, sometimes people do carry on what are seemingly private conversations that leave me wondering why they don’t just move over to an instant messaging service and get off Twitter….the social phenomenon is a little difficult to always understand.  Another downside is that Twitter can be a huge time waster, as noted here by Kathy Sierra.  Satisfying the need to “refresh” the page (what you have to do to see new posts) constantly throughout the day is quite the temptation….And try as I might to “fit in” I am rarely responded to when I Tweet (even though I have 118 “followers”), so I feel like a wall flower most times.  That definitely does not stop me from watching and learning though.


Another IT blogger I “follow”(Jennifer Jones) – on Twitter and at her blog injenuity, has been creating something on her blog she calls the “OnRamp.”  She has recently added links to 2 new pieces on Twitter:  Getting Twitter (The Lighter Side) followed by Getting Twitter (The Darker Side).  If you still don’t “get it” I recommend starting with Jennifer’s 2 excellent pieces. 


I do have to say that I am still not sure what I think about Twitter uses in teaching and learning.  Possibilities are being explored by many.  I don’t know enough about those possibilities yet to share anything of substance.  Still looking and reading.  Stay tuned for more on this in future posts…


So, the bottom line is that I have found Twitter to be an incredibly (and unexpectedly) useful tool for keeping current and connecting with a much larger community of IT professionals.  I have no doubt that others in any discipline could have similar experiences given the time and inclination.   How about you?  What are you doing….?