“It’s a Facebook thing” and ignorance of the internet: a short story

Yesterday these Kony posters appeared in our neighborhood. I knew they would get torn down as soon as people saw them this morning, so I went out early to take some snaps.

As I pulled up to the first one, a man (good-looking, maybe in his late 20s?) got out of his car and headed toward the sign. He leaned down to my open window and said, “do you know anything about this?”.

I said, “No.”

He said, “I think I know the kids who did it. It was kids.”

“Oh.” I said

“They don’t bother me.” I said. He looked puzzled.

“I figure it means they’re thinking”, I said.

He raised an eyebrow. “That’s just it,” he said. “They’re not thinking. It’s a Facebook thing.”

“Well,” I said, “maybe it will make other people in the neighborhood think, and that would be a good thing.”

Pause, as he turns away.

“I’m an educator,” I say, “It goes with the territory.”

He looks at me curiously. “Wait a minute,” he says, “Are you a teacher?” (This immediately reminded me why I never use the word “educator” – I have no idea why I did.)

“Yes.” “Where?” “MiraCosta.”

“I think I had you,” he said. (I avoided sighing – people saying that to me used to mean something completely different.)

“Then,” I said, “You should know I like this sort of thing.” He smiles and rips the sign down, going back to his car. I drove to another part of the neighborhood to get more snaps before he finished his morning endeavors.

Yesterday I had a conversation with a colleague who is otherwise very intelligent about the world. In fact, he teaches about culture. I was complaining at how few of our colleagues have any understanding of new media, the internet itself, or  the role of these elements in our culture.

He said, “Well, I’m not on Facebook, if that’s what you mean.”

“But your students are,” I said. “Don’t you think you should get in there and try to understand what’s going on? You could learn more about how they think.”

“I don’t like Facebook,” he says.

So I’m thinking (as I imagine the FB “dislike” thumbs-down in my head), is this how we deal with this? We don’t want to use it ourselves, so we aren’t interested in understanding it? Do we think the same thing about other kinds of knowledge and understanding? How do we teach our students if we don’t understand something that has become so quickly a major part of our culture? What do we teach our students if we don’t understand this?

It’s not “a Facebook thing”. Or if it is, it means we need to understand what being a Facebook thing means, and that it doesn’t necessarily translate as “doing what my friends do” or “living in a different space”. Facebook, and the whole internet, affects our lives every day, whether we have accounts or not. And when students (and former students) and teachers don’t get that, it’s a bad thing.


4 thoughts on ““It’s a Facebook thing” and ignorance of the internet: a short story

  1. Interesting. I saw a bunch of those around Tuscaloosa yesterday.

    I see your point about FB and knowing what our students are up to, but at the same time I have serious qualms about what FB does in terms of privacy and breaking the open web. Facebook’s power comes from the network effect, and I don’t want to increase their power by adding to the network. What’s a neo-Luddite technophile to do?


    1. What we all do in our own passive-aggressive way: temporary accounts. But really, just having an account doesn’t increase their power by much – it’s what you post and who you connect with that feeds the demon.


  2. True–but what’s the point of having an account if you don’t post and connect? How can you grok Facebook without actually using it?


    1. That’s true. But if you are very selective (friending a few others doing the same thing, joining a group without friending, forming a group but not friending. I find the best way is creating an account but posting very little about yourself (in other words, only putting things there that are available elsewhere on the web via your cv or web pages, and posting monthly just to share something you’ve shared anyway on Twitter).


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