Oddly enough, this is something I’ve been thinking about the last two weeks anyway, as I’ve worked with a Southern-California-based PhD student I’ve never met in person to organize a panel proposal for a big conference. He met my PhD advisor, who put us in touch since our work is somewhat similar. We emailed back and forth, then talked on Skype. From there, we emailed around to try to find a third panel member, a commenter, and a chair. I’m not sure what the connections were that helped him find the panelist and commenter, but I found the chair by asking a historian who will be visiting UMW later in the semester, and who was recruited for that in part because she attended grad school with one of my historian colleagues. That’s a lot of different mediums for communication, and a variety of types of connections, and none of them are all in the same place despite the fact that we’re all historians.
However, in some ways I find that process, messy as it is, more attractive than some of the alternatives. Sure, if there was a centralized location, things might be easier, and certainly things like Twitter might have potential for sending a CFP/panelist search into networks of people likely to respond (those “pools of expertise” Frey mentions), but I also think some of those elements of a Personal Learning Network could be overwhelming. In most of those categories, I’m somewhere on the edge of “Between Two Worlds” and “Entrenched in Real-World Networks,” and mostly I’m okay with that. I think it’s only in the Writing and Commenting that I’d want to even approach “In the Matrix” levels (I want to write more habitually, whatever the context, and whether or not the majority of it gets read/used), in part because that seems to require a level of commitment that demands too many of my resources (time, energy, etc) without a ton of immediate payoff for me (as far as I know, I get no credit for those in terms of production/scholarship, though some sort of recognition of those conversations as akin to participating in academic panels, conferences, etc might motivate me more). The social bookmarking/archiving I don’t find especially appealing (I don’t like watching stuff, YouTube account unlikely to ever happen). I have enough obligations, and this creates more, and I feel could pretty quickly grow beyond its capacity to be meaningful and/or manageable. Thus I appreciate the Hackademic Guide suggestion about seeing Twitter as a live conversation, and dropping in occasionally for just a bit, as even more attractive than Frey’s suggestion to vett and weed your networks (which in itself would require a lot of time and attention).
This is part of the reason I don’t aggressively expand, explore, search, and share a ton–the time, energy, effort, and attention are being spent elsewhere. I know there’s a lot out there, I know some people love those connections. I suspect quickly scanning, identifying the most useful, and paring/controlling these networks in ways that keep them from getting unwieldy is a skill acquired largely through experience, but that means I would need to make the commitment and deal with the learning curve and expenditures if I want to benefit. And I’m not sure these pieces acknowledge those kinds of costs.