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Facebook Project Update, and the impermanence of digital ephemera.

June 29, 2008

An article over at HNN considers the Historians and Facebook issue and mentions the Facebook groups that I created in October of 2007. These groups have seen relatively steady trickles of growth; the AHA and OAH groups have grown the fastest, but the smaller ones (H-Net Editors) have also seen a few people here and there. The HNN article has provoked a few new requests this weekend, such that the figures mentioned by Dr. Lemisch are already out of date.

His point, that Facebook could become a place of roiling debate, is contested by the first commenter on the article. This gentleman believes that history blogs will serve the purpose far better than the generically branded Facebook site, and I tend to think that he’s right. The rush to Facebook is really a rush to “what the kids are doing.” But even though the kids are alright, they never do the same thing for long, and it is my impression that for the rising matriculants, Facebook is already over, if not something that never even existed in their digital lives. So use Facebook if you like, but don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’ve found an online home. The most annoying thing about the internet is that there really isn’t such a thing as an online home so long as you are a “renter” (i.e. you use someone’s service to post/host your material. Even more than the real world, permanence only comes through “ownership.” Many have suggested that we should “meet the students where they are,” but I’ve started to come around to the idea that we should “expose the the students to where we are.” That means creating our own online communities on our own terms, useful in ways that we desire, and forgetting about super-poke and the like. Our world is moving online, but that doesn’t mean that 35, 45, or 55 year olds have to live it like 15 year olds.

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  1. CM,

    Well said. I think the internet (i.e. facebook, e-mail, blogs) ~can~ work well for keeping up with someone you either (1) met at a conference or elsewhere first, or (2) with whom you share a pointed concern. Using Facebook or e-mail, however, to meet or act like you're buddies will prove frustratingly transitory unless it's backed up by real, face-to-face meetings. The last thing I want is to be Superpoked or pinched or winked at by some historian I haven't met before or only know through conferences.

    I guess, in sum, I share your concern about Facebook, etc. becoming a primary tool for professional associations rather than a secondary one. The kids seem okay with primary, but methinks that is because they know no better.

    – TL


  2. Anonymous permalink

    Jesse Lemisch (author of the HNN article I referenced in the original post) asked me to post the following response:

    Failure of my internet connection for a couple of days kept me away from this interesting piece and comments (Let's keep these breakdowns in mind as we talk about Facebook, etc,.)

    My HNN piece on Historians and Facebook wasn't intended to “go where the kids are,” etc. The fact of the matter is that I think there are abundant existing milieus for faculty-student communication. As a lifelong leftist and a professional historian, I have always been interested in talk among professionals as to what they are doing, where they are going, what's coming down, etc. The kind of talk that goes on in the book exhibits and halls at the AHA.

    Whether Facebook is the best site for such discussion remains to be seen. It just seems worth a try.

    So with minor disagreements, Christopher Miller and I seem to be pretty much on the same side of this discussion. On the other hand, Tim Lacy seems to me to have constructed what we might call a straw Facebook. Obviously, the internet is not a substitute for face-to-face contact. Neither Christopher nor I is proposing that Facebook become a “primary tool for professional associations.”

    Jesse Lemisch


  3. Dear Jesse Lemisch and CM,

    I fear I left my last paragraph too vague. I didn't mean to say that either of you suggested that Facebook should become some kind of weird primary way of communicating professionally. You two are far from that, and we all know that couldn't happen (right?!) anyway. I only wanted to rule out the possibility of the cool kids thinking that could happen.

    Christopher's probably right in that Facebook is already out with the freshest up-and-coming set of students.

    I'll say again, in my online curmudgeonly voice, that I just don't want to be “Superpoked or pinched or winked at” by my students or colleagues. Maybe I just don't want that kind of virtual-emotional relationship with folks I work with.

    – TL


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