Thing 3 of 23 again: social media and unsocial me

I see by looking at the main 23 Things Cambridge site that my previous post missed out one aspect of the Thing, where we were asked to write ‘something about what you hope to get out of Cam 23 and your previous experience of Web 2.0 and social media’. At one level that’s simple to explain – I’m looking for a structured way to prod myself into trying some new technologies, and expand my technological horizons. I’ve used almost none of the 23 things actively before: in fact, blogging is the only thing I do regularly. I’ve looked occasionally at tweets, Flickr, Wordle, Flickr, wikis etc, but that’s it.

I can’t really blame this either on my age (I may not have a Facebook account, but my father does) or on the fact that I’m a historian. And I’ve not always been a Luddite. 15 years ago or so, I was ahead of the game on Web 1.0. I was an early user of the latest search technology AltaVista and was even designing my own web pages for the library. So what happened to leave me behind the technological curve?

Partly, it was a lack of time. From 1999 I had a job and a PhD to deal with, then a PhD and a baby, then a toddler and an attempt at an academic career, then a school child and a book to write. None of this has really allowed me to have a social life, let alone an online one. Nor have I had the time to play around with interesting technologies, especially since so many of them seem to have a deceptive learning curve: it’s possible to do something with them very quickly, but to use them effectively takes quite a lot of practice. (Maybe as a follow-up, each of us on the course should choose just one Thing and see what we can do with it over 12 weeks).

But I think it’s also a deeper conceptual problem I have with social media, especially something like Facebook. One of the reasons I started this blog (and named it ‘Magistra and Mater’) was to express the strangeness of living in two largely separate social and mental worlds, the domestic and the academic. My friends and acquaintances can generally be split into two separate groups: those who find it unremarkable (if pleasing) that CUP are going to publish a book of mine on early medieval history, and those who were having to rearrange their schedules frantically last week because it was half-term. With one group I discuss feudalism, with the other the easiest musical instrument for a seven year-old to learn. What can I say on a Facebook site that would interest both sets of people?

On the blog my usual compromise is to talk about motherhood in a vaguely academic voice. (An experienced academic can talk about anything in an academic tone of voice. You just have to include in your conversation the questions: ‘What are the wider implications of my experience?’ and ‘Would the same thing have happened 100 years ago?’ Or stick in the media parallels). The blog balancing act gets even more complicated, however, now that I’m adding in (at least temporarily) some librarianship. How do I say things of interest to both sides of the librarian/user divide? Will readers be willing to scroll past posts on the Staffordshire hoard to get to discussions of Delicious (or vice versa)? Social media is about making connections to others who are like you; unfortunately, I increasingly feel that my spheres of work leave me alone in the centre of a Venn diagram. (Did I mention I’m also an ex-mathematician?)



2 thoughts on “Thing 3 of 23 again: social media and unsocial me

  1. Salve magistra et mater
    Thanks for contacting me re joining a group. I had looked at your blog earlier and then when I got to the Carolingian patriarchy bit realised I wasn’t in the same league. Anyway, yes, it would be most kind of you if you could help me along. Perhaps you would be interested in also meeting with Jane Acred of Zoology and Jillian Wilkinson of Divinity whom I’ve also contacted but not gotten around to meeting with yet? More the merrier, probably, what do you think?


  2. Hells bells! Don’t use Facebook as a marker into the world of wonderful communication technology. I have an account, tightly private, used for limited purposes. A historian and a social scientist may obtain insights into the life, times, behaviours, perhaps expectations, lack of guile, and so on with much of what goes on, in all those instant chattering avenues. Sure they have their uses, but I really don’t see you broadly expressing yourself in the instant twit and click environments, as well as you do in this one.

    Parents are aware, as you doubtless are, that when you have children they will keep you abreast of what is going on; while they learn to use the technology as second nature, you will plod along either slightly behind or just keeping up. The important thing here is, you will be aware of current developments and be in a position to choose out of them what works for you. It’s a hidden benefit of parenthood well worth having.


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