Have you ever given a presentation in front of a large group of people and been asked a difficult question? Maybe even a rude one?
Back in August 2014, I was invited to speak at a forum called ‘The Strategic Researcher’ for Deakin University’s Faculty of Arts and Education. I wasn’t told what I should present on, but I kind of figured I was being asked to showcase my experimental use of various digital media platforms to provoke thought and discussion among my colleagues. So I honed in on the growing need for academics to engage with communities in the real world by being active online. Instead of the conventional slideshow I made a video to play behind me, which interrupted my talk, told me to sit down, and took over after a few minutes. That media-integrated presentation became an experiment that taught me a lot in itself, but it’s not what I want to focus on here. Instead, I want to address a question that I was asked by one lecturer during the Q&A session that followed:
‘So you’ve basically made the decision to spend most of your life online?’
I’m not even sure whether I should have added a question mark to that statement, and the wording might not be exact, but it captures the sentiment put forward well enough. As a relatively young and very new academic speaking in front of around fifty of my peers and managers, it was a confronting thing to be asked. As is the best way to deal with such queries, I answered by disagreeing with the question (as I’ll do below). I don’t hold a grudge against the questioner – I honestly have no idea who it was anymore, if I even did at the time – and I’m kind of grateful that their contribution has in part led to this blog.
Given it’s grounded in so many false assumptions, one might perceive the question as mistaken at best and offensive at worst. However, it was also likely driven in the most part by anxieties about ‘being online’ that many people still experience no matter what their professional status, background, or age. The question hinted at a judgement (or excuse?) that many others in that room would have had at the time: that social media takes a lot of time – or, more accurately in this case, social media takes too much time.
Having offered a survey of potentially useful platforms like Twitter, YouTube, WordPress, About.Me, Academia, LinkedIn, Research Gate, and so on – and even though I emphasised that no one should (or could) be on everything – an array of unfamilar sites can tend to sound like a lot of work. But in reality, that’s not the case. Even now, when I’m running up to ten Twitter accounts and multiple Instagram profiles, blogs, YouTube channels, and SoundCloud podcasts at a time, I don’t actually spend much time online to do all this. In fact, I’m usually more often concerned that I’m not spending enough time online; that I need to spend more…
I was reminded about this issue by a discussion that came up in a recent live video chat of the #DDMalumni (formerly #ALCalumni) – a group of enthusiastic current and former students who are still creating, sharing, and networking long after completing their digital media studies. A ‘hot topic’ for the informal Zoom session was ‘Do we spend too much time online and is it healthy?’, and this got me thinking that maybe this frequently raised question needs to be turned on its head. Could reframing the issue provide a more valuable perspective from which to approach this vexed and vexing subject? Should we focus on spending better time on social media?
There is no denying that social media is indelibly linked to ‘procrastination’ for many, many people (most will make that link explicit in everyday conversation without too much prompting). And I don’t want to suggest that procrastination doesn’t have its place – after all, how do you clearly separate that from the recreation necessary for a balanced life? On the other hand, for people who want and need to be efficient and effective when using social media (particularly in the contexts of the workplace and study), being more strategic in managing the time one allocates to online activity has become increasingly essential.
There is no end to the entertaining
distractions media we can consume and it always takes extra time, effort, and courage to create and share content rather than just skim endlessly through a feed and read, watch, and listen to others’ stuff. I’m aware from innumerable student comments over the years of the tempation/inclination to simply skim through a unit hashtag on Twitter but to seldom offer a post of their own. It’s a shame when this happens because, as the video below highlights, social media provides an ‘extension’ of everyday conversations that ‘let you know someone cares about you [and, by extension, what you think] so you feel less alone in the world’:
Whether we are efficiently curating the content we expose ourselves to, and making quality contributions for our own and others’ benefit, requires ongoing self-evaluation. Recently I’ve begun treating a lot more of the mostly talking head YouTube videos I regularly watch like podcasts while I’m exercising rather than lying in bed or on the couch watching them. Beyond this multitasking, I’ve also started to ramp up the quality of the time I spend on social media by being there when I’m actually not there. I’ll blog about my initial endeavours into social media scheduling soon, but for now I’ll draw this post to a close by coming back to the story with which I began.
In order to benefit from the conversations of connection that social media can facilitate, you need to be in those conversations, not only witnessing them from afar. This applies to lecturers, students, and practitioners in more fields than I can count. I dare say a lot of people who know-me-but-don’t still think I spend too much time online. If they tell me as much, I’ll reply that I’m actually trying to spend more time there. But underneath my polite smile, I’ll know that I’m mostly just trying to make that time better.
Thanks for taking the time to read this post – I hope it was worth the time 🙂