On the Benefits of Facebook

Many of us use Facebook for fun, to keep in touch with friends and family across the world, or to distribute propaganda that reflects our political preferences. I use it for these reasons, but also because it helps me with both scholarship and teaching.

First, like many scholars, I’m an introvert and find networking at conferences to be emotionally draining. I like networking, I enjoy seeing colleagues at conferences, but by the time I return home I need about a week of sleep to recover. However, I find networking with other scholars over Facebook to be an introvert-friendly method to get to know other people in my academic area. I’ve virtually “met” a number of scholars whom I’ve never met in person, and our virtual interaction has in some cases opened up mutually beneficial publishing opportunities—opportunities we never would have had were it not for Facebook. In addition, in those cases where I finally meet a virtual friend in person, the initial meeting sometimes takes place like we’re old friends.

Second, my academic friends (read: nerds) share interesting news stories and commentary of interest to both my research and teaching. For instance, a few weeks ago I gave my usual lecture on “authenticity” and identity claims; later in the week I opened Facebook to find that Russell McCutcheon had shared this news story about competing views in Israel about what constitutes an authentic Jew. I photocopied it and brought it to class as an “e.g.”—and we had a great discussion about how the debate could be steered away from assertions of authenticity and recast in terms of how identity claims are always contextual and linked to social interests. In addition, I threw Russell’s blurb at them: “For those who think identity is in the bones, this is likely shocking. For those who think identity is an ongoing competitive sport, this is likely uninteresting.” I made my students translate this for me (i.e., explain it back to me in their own words) and evaluate it (“Is he right? wrong? partly right and partly wrong? why?). Facebook made my class a better class that day.

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