I had a conversation with a colleague over Twitter last week that didn’t sit particularly well with me. Her prediction: that soon we’ll have no shared culture at all. Soon we’ll be nothing but pod people.
How depressing! How bleak!
Am I already a pod person?
The idea that the rise of social media actually means an end to shared culture is a bit counter-intuitive to me. Blogs, social networks and other multimedia tools (dare I say communities?) have made me feel closer to people around the country and around the world than I could have imagined before these tools were such an important part of my daily life. Blogs in particular have even helped me branch out in in the “real” world. I’ve made personal and professional contacts on the internet that may never have happened without it.
But the idea that seeking out like-minded folks on the internet could have a deleterious effect on local culture and communities has given me pause.
While it’s true that many of the blogs I follow shed light on folks who might be at the opposite end of the political spectrum, I’m not seeking these people out directly. And the same is more or less true of Twitter–I hear about, say, people who devalue libraries, or don’t believe in school librarians, or believe technology is nothing but a blight for teens and learning… but I don’t follow those people.
The question, then, is this: by seeking out like minds, whether it’s through Twitter or a regional listserv, are we overlooking community partnerships at home? As with most either/or situations I would hope this isn’t a true either/or–but are we really expanding the boundaries of the conversation, or using a megaphone to talk to a bigger herd of sheep?
I’m thrilled, for instance, that my state school library association has a cadre of active Twitter users updating the world at large about our annual conference (#msla2009, or #msla09 for the rebels who want to save characters), but are those tweets just bouncing around in an echo chamber of other librarians?
I have wondered some of the same things, but social media is not just about advertising it is about sharing ideas to help make a difference in your local community. Although our library is in Northeast Nebraska, I was able to share some unique things that we are doing with the Los Angleies Public Library. I have received ideas from the New York Public Library. Our goal for our social media involvement is better service and contact with our local community. I am thrilled to make contact with libraries and librarians, but I really get excited when patrons start to follow us on social media sites and we are able to converse with them and better meet their needs along the way.
I am a firm believer in the idea that social networking brings more voices and ideas to someone’s life rather than fewer. However, I do often think about how the voices that I carefully select might simply be echos of myself.
I’m thinking that we need to make a point, as librarians, to build our social networks just like we build our collections and face-to-face collaborations. If we do it right, we collect materials that present teens with a wide array of views so that teens can read all of those different ways of looking at a topic and come to a decision about what they think. We don’t close teens off (or we shouldn’t) to different points of view via materials on our shelves, and we shouldn’t close ourselves off to finding partners within our communities by ignoring them on various social networks.
This is actually why it’s important for librarians – who are a part of social networks as librarians – to keep their profiles open. That way they invite others who might be different than themselves to participate in a conversation. But, it does have to go two-way. We can’t just have people we don’t necessarily agree with follow us – we have to follow them and speak up when necessary. And, we have to look for ways to work together in order to serve teens successfully.
If we only talk to ourselves how do we learn how to handle challenges. How do we learn what motivates the thoughts and ideas of others different than ourselves? And, ultimately, how do we move forward in serving teens successfully?
When I was in grad. school I had a teacher who firmly believed in the power of the upcoming technologies – satellite radio, IM, etc. The problem, for me, was that he seemed to be extolling the virtues of the echo chamber, politically, theologically and personally. Part of that “shared culture” that’s disappearing is the exposure to ideas that might not completely mesh with ours.
How many of us follow a twitter feed from someone “opposite” to ours? Who reads blogs that we don’t agree with in some major respect? What about befriending or becoming a fan of “the enemy”? Being aware of The Other can only make our outreach to patrons better. Sadly, in my experience, people seem to be too afraid to do that.