Tag Archives: Facebook

Four lessons from my Lenten social media fast

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This past Sunday was Easter, of course. Easter marks the endpoint of Lent, and therefore it was the end of my 40-day fast from Facebook and Twitter. I do admit that I broke cover once to announce my upcoming job change, and will also admit that I lurked a lot on both services during the last 10 days or so, reading but not commenting. Otherwise, though, I did manage to stay off both Facebook and Twitter for the duration (auto-posted tweets didn’t count).

I’ll have to say my first real tweet after breaking the fast felt awkward — like I’d been out in the wilderness for 40 days and had stepped back into a once-familiar place with people who had never left. I’m gradually getting back into the swing of it, but I also feel like I have a much different perspective on my social media involvement after giving most of it up for 40 days. I’ve learned a few things about the role of social media in my work and life:

Lesson 1: Denoising your life is good. I found this out within days of starting the fast. I didn’t realize until I gave Twitter and Facebook up for a few days just how dependent I’d become on checking status reports every few minutes, not to mention creating status updates myself. There is a tremendous amount of time bound up in these little 2- to 5-minute bursts of social media that I really benefitted from reclaiming. But more than that, I found that once I went cold turkey on Facebook and Twitter, the pace of my life slowed down several notches. I felt less hurried and more relaxed. When you make yourself try to keep up with a continuous stream of status updates, you soon begin to feel like Lucy and Ethel on the candy wrapping assembly line:

But that’s not all I learned.

Lesson 2: Getting rid of the noise is good, but losing the signal in the process is not so good. Many times over the last couple of months, I’d catch myself leaning over the keyboard about to compose a tweet asking for help or ideas on a question, or looking at Facebook to see what my friends all over the world were doing. But I had to catch myself because I was on a fast. I learned through all this that I really value the thoughts and ideas of the people and groups I follow — these thoughts and ideas enrich my life, fire my imagination, make me laugh at silly stuff, and generally make me a better person and professional. I missed all that, and the people behind them, a lot.

Despite the value I place in my connections, I also learned that:

Lesson 3: It’s good not to share everything. I remember quite clearly having lunch with my dissertation advisor one day, and he gave me a piece of advice I’ve never forgotten: Always keep secrets. Work on things that nobody knows about but yourself. While sharing is generally good, and while the power of being able to share yourself quickly and on a large scale through Twitter and Facebook creates a powerful opportunity to connect with others, I think there’s a point of sharing past which the individual starts to get diluted. For example, during the first couple of weeks of Lent, I attended the ICTCM in Denver. There was no tweeting from there, although there was ample opportunity. Instead, I kept notes, talked to people, and made myself social in real life. It was good, and I think it would have been less good if I had taken time away from the here-and-now to tweet about the here-and-now.

Then, the Wednesday after I returned from Denver, I noticed on my right leg a series of painful, angry-looking red streaks going from my lower right calf all the way up to the top of the thigh. I went to the doctor to have it checked out, and they sent me directly to the emergency room, and from there they sent me directly to a hospital room. I was diagnosed with cellulitis, an infection of the subcutaneous tissue under the skin that I probably picked up from walking around barefoot in my Denver hotel room. I spent three days in the hospital getting IV antibiotics around the clock to fight the infection. Had I waited till Thursday morning to go to the doctor, the infection would have made it to my femoral artery and I likely would have gone septic, and it would have gotten considerably worse from there.

I’ll admit it: I was scared, frustrated, and sorely in need of people to connect with during those three days. Had I been using social media, I would have been posting Facebook and Twitter updates, probably with pictures, about as often as I was getting antibiotics. But by choice, I kept this experience to myself, to share with my wife and kids, my doctors, and with God. Instead of tweeting, I prayed and wrote and talked to my wife and children. I watched a lot of Netflix and got some grading done. So while it would have been a comfort to have social media as an outlet for sharing with others, by concentrating my sharing to the real people in my life who matter the most, and keeping the rest a secret (till now), the whole experience somehow has more meaning and lasting power in my memory.

Finally, I learned:

Lesson 4: Social media is a permanent part of who I am, and when managed well it is a powerful force for good. Early on during Lent I realized I liked the slower pace of life so much that I wondered if I would go back to Twitter and Facebook once it was all over. Honestly, I can’t see giving those two services up. I’ve carefully groomed and built my list of people and groups to follow so that whenever I look in on the Twitter update stream, I learn something. Facebook is the same way except on a more personal level with friends from real life. So I can’t see just giving these things up. They are an antidote to stagnation. But I do like taking a more minimal and focused approach to engaging with social media — which, by the way, leaves me more ideas and energy for blogging — so that the signal-to-noise ratio is high.

So ends my Lenten social media fast, with results that I consider successful. I feel that I’m now more apt to use social media outlets to grow and learn and connect in positive ways, less prone to share indiscriminately and inappropriately. Like most things, it takes some time away to help you appreciate what you have.

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Filed under Christianity, Family, Personal, Social software, Technology, Twitter, Web 2.0

Why I am giving up Twitter and Facebook for Lent

I don’t often write on CO9’s about my faith, so I hope you’ll indulge me for a bit. Since this is also a post about technology, I figured it fits. This has to do with Lent.

In the Christian church year, Lent is a season in which believers participate in acts of personal sacrifice to help us prepare for Holy Week. Lent begins tomorrow with Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter, which is on April 24 this year. I haven’t always given something up for Lent, but this year I’ve decided that I am giving up Twitter and Facebook.

It may seem silly to use abstinence from social media to commemorate the sufferings of Christ, but there’s a serious twofold purpose to my choice.

First, in giving up Twitter and Facebook, I am seeking to recover time that I am spending in 15–30 second increments and re-invest it elsewhere. If you took all the little bursts of time I spend checking Facebook and Twitter in a given day, I think it would add up to about an hour. I wouldn’t be surprised if it were a lot more than an hour. I can do a lot in an hour: pray, read, spend time with the kids, or just be still. Right now I complain that I don’t have enough time for these things, but in fact I do.

Second, I’ve used Facebook and Twitter status updates to vent out all kinds of behavior that are best left off the public record, and I’d like that to change. In particular, I think back to the tweets that followed this one a few weeks ago. It was an outburst of anger toward a student comment on the MATLAB course blog that shouldn’t have been posted. While I deleted the worst of the tweets in that series, I looked back on that rapid-fire set of tweets the next day and I recoiled at the ugliness of it. That is not the kind of man I would like to be.

Although the idea of giving up Twitter for Lent popped into my head after that incident, it’s certainly not the only time I’ve engaged in character assassination or whining or self-indulgence or attention-seeking on Twitter or Facebook. It can be frustrating. There is so much good to which these social media outlets can be put, like sharing interesting links, making connections to old friends and new friends who share my passions, and discovering new ideas from interesting people. But it’s also a fact that I’ve used the quick-hit nature of Twitter and Facebook to share things that I ought to be sorry for even thinking.

I’m hoping that by stepping away from social media for a while, I will starve some of those tendencies to act immediately upon the impulses to bash, whine, hurt, indulge, or emote and give myself instead a chance to fill the space with better things. I’m thinking of how Luther explains the Ten Commandments in the Small Catechism. For Luther, each commandment is phrased explicitly in the negative (e.g. “You shall not murder”) but implicitly carries with it an equal and opposite command given in the positive (e.g. instead, we should help and support our neighbors in every physical need). In fact the Catechism’s entry for the Eighth Commandment really gets at the heart of it:

The Eighth Commandment.

Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.

What does this mean?–Answer.

We should fear and love God that we may not deceitfully belie, betray, slander, or defame our neighbor, but defend him, [think and] speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.

That’s what I’m shooting for here.

So between now and April 24, I’ll still check for and respond to direct messages on Twitter and Facebook (because those are really more like emails than anything). Also, my Facebook group I set up for my academic advisees will still see action because that’s more job-related. Some things that I do which auto-post to Twitter and Facebook, like when I post a YouTube video or publish a blog post, I’ll leave up and running. But otherwise no posting and no @-replies until April 24. If you normally get in touch with me through Facebook or Twitter, please use my email instead: robert [dot] talbert [at] gmail [dot] com.

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Filed under Casting Out Nines, Social software, Technology

Student failure and student humanity

A mathematics lecture, apparently about linear...

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Alice Fenton (a pseudonym) set off a minor firestorm recently with this post to the Chronicle of Higher Education website, titled “The Pleasure of Seeing the Deserving Fail”. The title explains the content; the article is about different kinds of students who bring failure upon themselves in some way or another, and the pleasure the instructor can take in failing them.

Today, “Alice” has published a sequel, called “How to Inspire a Backlash”, to serve as a counterpoint to the negative reactions to her first article. At the close, she says:

Anger, dislike, weariness, schadenfreude: Those are all, for me, parts of human experience. That does not mean those emotions rule people, but it does mean they are there sometimes. Acknowledging those feelings may improve the chances that they won’t affect how I behave, since acknowledgment leads to awareness, which, in turn, can lead to clarity and caution (if not the kind of caution that keeps one from writing an article for The Chronicle).

So I did not write my original article because I was burned out, or filled with rage, or even—delightful as it might be—a harpy. I wrote it, in part, out of a sense of ironic fun that I assumed (naïvely I now see) would be shared, and, in part, as a description of occasional and ephemeral angers that I saw no harm in sharing.

But equally I wrote it because I feel it is part of my job, as a teacher as well as a person, to acknowledge my negatives as well as my positives—not because that makes me superior, or inferior, but because it makes me human.

I used to think, and teach, this way. In fact, if you go back far enough in the archives of this blog, you will find numerous posts that have a kindred spirit with Alice’s two articles. I called out torpid students and took pleasure in their mistakes and failures out of a sense of “ironic fun”, a sense of needing to vent “ephemeral angers”, a sense that doing so affirms my humanity. I would celebrate the successes of my students and vilify their failures with equal relish. And whatever I restrained myself from blogging about, I would keep active in my thoughts and gab about with colleagues in the hallway. After all, those emotions are there, and acknowledging them makes me more human, and therefore failing to do so would be dehumanizing.

Then I realized something: Professors aren’t the only people around here who are human. Students are human beings, too.

My students are human beings with all the accoutrements other human beings possess. They have intelligence, prior knowledge, nonempty cognitive frameworks, morals, creativity, and nontrivial accomplishments in life. They have people in their lives who love them dearly, whose hearts would break at my schadenfreude at their expense, no matter how much “ironic fun” it is. They are capable of doing amazing things, and they have their own successful K-12 education to prove it. There is no reason to believe they cannot go on to even more amazing things, and any educator who doesn’t feel this possibility when teaching is not paying attention.

Yes: On the flip side of this, students can also be astoundingly lazy, rude, ill-mannered, slow, foolish, and downright unpleasant to be around. Many of them think they are still children. Many of them do not have the first idea how to manage themselves; some of them willfully mismanage themselves because they figure this is what college is all about. For us faculty, students through their behaviors can drive us to insanity, to rage, to tears of frustration.

And yes: Many students deserve to fail as the logical outcome of a litany of irresponsible behaviors and bad choices. In a just, well-constructed academic environment where learning and academic rigor matter, these students will fail — they must fail. It is not wrong to find a kind of satisfaction in a system that works in this way. There is pleasure, in a way, to be found here as well: a pleasure one gets from first dividing the educational world in to two parts — us and them — and then lumping the students who frustrate us the most into the them category and watching them get what they deserve.

So I don’t deny that there is pleasure to be had in student failure when they “deserve” it. But it’s one thing to apprehend the pleasure and quite another to take it. Anybody who is serious about becoming more human will begin by acknowledging the humanity in other people. And I defy any educator worthy of the title to take pleasure in student failure, “deserved” or otherwise, without ignoring one or more key elements of student humanity. You cannot take pleasure in student failure without dehumanizing the student — and yourself. If you do, you are not an educator, no matter what your title may say. You may not even be as human as you think.

The way forward to humanity — and sanity — as an educator, as I was somehow blessed to find out, is to treat students as human beings with complex sets of values and assumptions. These values and assumptions all play into their behaviors, and it is way too easy to dismiss the student based on behavior without considering the cause. That guy in the second row preferred Facebook to your lectures all year. Why? That young lady in your 9:00 AM class has missed five class meetings and falls asleep when she shows up. Why? That fraternity dude in your 12:20 class would rather party than study. Why? All of these behaviors are linked to student’s values and assumptions — that is, to their humanity — as well as to our own values and assumptions about student learning. We make progress when we start answering these Why? questions seriously, taking student values and assumptions — that is, their humanity — into account as well as our own assumptions about student learning and how it takes place.

Just as we faculty — and entire institutions — can and should find happiness, satisfaction, and joy in student successes, let us be frustrated, perplexed, and saddened by student failures. There’s no point in denying those feelings. But indulging them? Finding pleasure in student failure? Never, under any circumstance.

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The iPod touch: Keeping new parents sane since 2009

With Harrison’s arrival on the 15th, I have had neither the time nor the raw material for blogging about math, education, or technology. Instead I’ve been mostly figuring out how to decrypt my new son’s little coded messages and trying to sleep when I can. But there is one tech item from my experience of the last week that I would like especially to highlight: the ongoing awesomeness of the iPod touch.

Originally I wanted an iPod touch to replace my aging third-generation Photo iPod. I figured the main purpose of an iPod is music playback, and having internet and video capability would be sort of nice too. But now I see that the iPod touch is a lot more than a music player: It’s a passport to new-parent sanity. Consider the following ways the iPod touch has been of use lately:

– I used the iPod touch to provide real-time updates of my wife’s delivery — well, at least right up to the point we went to the delivery room — for friends and family using Twitter and Facebookfacebook-update I was even able to make some short posts to our family blog, although blogging on the iPod screen keyboard really takes it out of you.

– I found out that while you’re in the hospital having a baby, the moments of genuine excitement are intense but sparse. Mostly there are lengthy periods when you’re just there in the hospital room with nothing to do. Fortunately before I came to the hospital with the Mrs. I stocked up the iPod with every LOST episode I owned and a whole bunch of podcasts, so when baby and mom were asleep and I wasn’t tired (ha! Remember when I wasn’t tired?) I could fend off the boredom.

– Although I have never actually done this, you could use the iPod in its originally intended mode, as a music player, to play back calming music to a newborn with one hand while holding the baby in the other.

– Perhaps the most frequent use of the iPod touch has been during my overnight shifts looking after the baby. These are usually from 8PM to midnight and involve trying to lay down in a quiet, dark room knowing that any attempted sleep is going to be interrupted by a suddenly hysterical baby. The first night we were home and I was on deck, I ended up rocking the baby in my left arm while seated and using my right hand to Twitter to the outside world. Now this has become something of a nightly live-blog of my exploits as parent-on-duty.  I use the tag #babyshift to highlight these posts.

babyshift

Sometimes I report on what’s happening during my shift. Sometimes I throw out questions to the “audience” which turn in to good discussions about parenting tips and tricks. I’ve had very lively conversation threads during these times, while I Twitter one-handed in the rocking chair in our bedroom waiting for Harrison to settle into sleep. The “#babyshift show” has made what would normally be a tedious parenting task into something fun, even something to look forward to. You simply can’t overestimate the value of connecting to the outside world when your whole world is turned inward because of a new baby, no matter how wonderful that baby is. (Join me most nights between 8-9 PM by going to my Twitter page.)

So here’s to the iPod touch and the whole idea of mobile access to the Internet.

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Identity theft on Facebook?

I’m a little surprised you don’t hear about this sort of thing happening more often: 

A Roncalli High School administrator is asking a judge to force the Internet site Facebook to identify the pranksters who hijacked his identity for a phony Webpage.

Tim Puntarelli, Roncalli [High School]’s dean of students, and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese is suing Facebook and the anonymous creators of the false Webpage the suit claims contained false, embarrassing, and defaming information about Puntarelli and Roncalli High School.

The page creators used the Facebook page to pose as Puntarelli and send emails to Roncalli students, according to the lawsuit filed Thursday in Marion Superior Court.

Facebook officials removed the page when they were notified of the site on April 18, but refused to disclose the identity of the creators without a court order, according to the lawsuit.

Puntarelli and the Archdiocese are asking a judge to order Facebook to identify the creators of the page. The suit indicates they want the pranksters to pay triple the attorney fees and court costs.

I’m also somewhat surprised that Facebook is so reluctant to hand over the identity of the kids (presumably kids, at least) who set up this phony web page when they freely admit that the page is phony and the administrator’s identity was hijacked. Why should you need a court order for this? 

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Filed under High school, Social software, Student culture, Technology

Where are the 95 Theses posted?

Looks like everybody has a Facebook page these days (click to enlarge):

ml-facebook.jpg

The “Poke Him!” option is particularly amusing. Haven’t you always wanted to poke Martin Luther? Speaking as a fledgling Lutheran myself, it’s nice to see old Martin — whose use of technology to propagate information under a repressive authoritarian regime ought to inspire Web 2.0 types everywhere — take up residence at his new Wittenberg Door.

Seriously, one person writes on Luther’s “wall” that making up these fake Facebook pages would be a pretty good way to teach historical biography.

[h/t Cyberbrethren: A Lutheran Blog]

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Filed under Humor, Social software

Twitter in the classroom

The Wired Campus is running a series of articles on using Twitter, the popular micro-blogging platform, as a classroom tool. Here’s the first article (interesting stuff in the comments there), and here’s a followup with a short video from a Twittering professor. And here’s a more lengthy article from Chronicle.com.

Twitter does appear to provide good backchannel discussion opportunities for those who are motivated to use it productively, and as a corollary there are some interesting out-of-classroom student interaction possibilities there. But my experience with any form of online communication is that students like it if they are pushing the information to people of their choosing (such as IM) but not if class stuff is being pushed to them (such as Twitter or even regular email). Control of information is a really big issue with students, and it profoundly creeps them out sometimes when professors presume to include them in backchannel conversations about class.

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