The following is the introductory speech I made for a panel I moderated at the Digital Sandbox workshop. The panel’s central aims were to explore the positive benefits of social media and blogging, provide advice for building a network of students, academics, and professionals online, and consider some of the limitations of these communication platforms. With my introduction, I aimed to inject a sense of humor [it was early in the morning!], but I also wanted to seriously consider the challenges faced by humanities majors with regards to the lack of understanding from the general public about the nature of our work. Check out the links to read the sources I used in creating this speech. Tomorrow, I will point out some of the highlights of the panel and provide links to more resources that students can utilize if they are considering the possibility of using social media and blogging platforms to share their work. –NS
Over the past eight years, social media and blogging have become extremely popular forms of communication in American society. Many people today connect with their friends and loved ones through tweets, wall posts, and status updates as often as they send emails, talk on the phone, or engage with someone in person. As of May 2013, Facebook is the number one visited site in the entire world, while Twitter is number ten, and Blogspot–the world’s most popular blogging platform–is number twelve. [Note: this website’s rankings are updated periodically]. Although these communication platforms are undoubtedly popular among people of all ages, they have also sparked a great deal of controversy for the ways they have changed how we process information and interact with each other. One popular image of social media portrays these sites as potentially dangerous places that bring out the worst in their users.
Anthropologist Alexis Madrigal recently argued that for many users of Facebook, a hypnotic “machine zone” mentality takes over. “It’s a response to a fine-tuned feedback loop. It’s a powerful space-time distortion. You hit a button. Something happens… Maybe you win, maybe you don’t. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. It’s the pleasure of the repeat, the security of the loop.” Matt Labash, writing for The Weekly Standard, paints a portrait of Twitter that, as his article subtitle suggests, will lead to “the decline of Western Civilization, 140 characters at a time.” Self-absorbed, attention starved “Twidiots,” according to Labash, are actively destroying written languages all over the world and killing our brains with mindless tweets about coffee, LOLcats, and episodes of Jersey Shore. Finally, academic thinkers like Sir Peter Strothard, former editor of The Times Literary Supplement, have lamented the loss of authority ushered in by the rise of blogging. “Not everyone’s opinion is worth the same,” argues Strothard, and bloggers who share their passion for literature online do so “to the detriment of literature… People will be encouraged to buy and read books that are no good, the good will be overwhelmed, and we’ll be worse off.” It seems that for Strothard, the idea of readers relying on bloggers instead of academics for literary criticisms spells the doom of the entire field.
Meanwhile, the value of humanities studies has been actively questioned since the 2008 recession. Rising tuition costs, crippling student debt, and shaky job prospects have led to fewer students pursuing humanities degrees, and those that graduate have unemployment rates around ten percent, which is almost more than half the unemployment rate for those who graduate with science, technology, engineering, and math degrees. Some prominent political and education leaders have spoken out against the liberal arts and humanities. Florida Governor Rick Scott has asked, “is it a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists? I don’t think so.” North Carolina Governor Patrick McCrory recently asserted, “if you want to take gender studies that’s fine, go to a private school and take it… I don’t want to subsidize that if that’s not going to get someone a job.” Here in Indiana, Ivy Tech Community College President Tom Snyder has conceded that “it is time we all accept the fact that a traditional four-year liberal arts education is a poor investment for America’s middle class… [it] is now a luxury that few can afford.”
Social Media certainly has its dangers, ranging from overuse and addiction, to breaches of privacy, to bad cases of TMI. A recent survey also found that 8% of individuals aged 16-24 had lost a job opportunity due to their social media usage. But it seems as if the time is ripe to begin considering the possibility of using social media and blogging to promote humanities scholarship. Indeed, much of the criticism against humanities programs stems from the misunderstandings of non-humanities majors who are not aware of the work being done in the field. Diana Sorensen, Dean of Arts and Humanities at Harvard, has stated that the time has come for those in the humanities to show “what it is our work does so they don’t think we’re just living up in the clouds all the time.” How might humanities students use online communication platforms to promote their work to the broader public? What are the possible career benefits of having a digital presence? Can a tweet, status update, or blog post help graduate students land a job once school is done? [Note: Probably not]. This panel aims to educate students of all types on the wide range of digital tools, blogging websites, and media platforms students can use to advance their academic interests.