The Harrisburg U Nonsense, or Why Social Media Matter

If you follow news on higher education and/or social media, you can’t have missed the news (and if you did, see the articles here, here, and here to catch up) that Harrisburg University is imposing a social media blackout on its students and faculty. Others have done a good job explaining why this is a bad idea (see, for example, Eric Stoller’s and Eric Grospitch’s posts for a student affairs perspective), but what I’m interested in is one of the points that Academic Dave raises in his take on the situation:

I think we should start by recognizing that social media isn’t an online form of communication, rather social media is how students communicate. In other words Eric isn’t asking students to give up communicating online, he is asking them to give up a large portion of the way in which they communicate. Imagine if the experiment was to have no one on campus talk to each other? There are actually fairly serious concerns here that shouldn’t be treaded over lightly. For many students their social media networks of friends are crucial to their daily lives, whether as the primary means by which they stay in touch with people or at the most significant level as a medium by which they connect with their support groups. Asking students to give up social media is not just a technical ask, it is a social and psychological one as well, one which I think those who don’t use it as a primary means of communicating probably underestimate.

This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, partly because I’m teaching a course with a social media focus, and partly because in my job I encounter a fair number of folks who simply do not get social media. At.All. And who have no compunction about saying to my face that using social media is a stupid waste of time. (And in case you’re wondering, I generally do not appreciate being told that something I and my office devote a significant chunk of time to is stupid and wasteful).

What these folks don’t get, I think, is the fact that, for me and lots of other people, social media is indeed our primary way of communicating. I dislike talking on the phone and using email for personal communications because it feels too much like work. Social media has thus become the primary way I keep in touch with far-flung friends and family. I think one of the reasons I’m so much happier living in Kansas City than I was in Bryan/College Station (well, I mean besides the fact that B/CS is in Texas and Texas and I were NOT a good fit for each other. Apologies to my Texan friends, but let’s face, that was not a relationship that was going to work out) is partly due to the fact that I have a much stronger network of support through social media — both in terms of keeping up with friends from elsewhere and developing relationships with people in KC. Having this taken away is not something I would react well to especially if it weren’t my choice.

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