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.

4 Thoughts on “Digital communities

  1. Jason,

    I tend to agree with you, the more I expand through various networks the less I feel present in any of them. I spent most of my time writing on my blgo and harassing people on twitter. But the bulk of my Personal Learning Network comes in the form of subscribing to sites and blogs I feel will reinforce my work or interests in some ways. I think of Tumblr and my rss reader in very similar veins in this regard. That is where I read and save the stuff I was inspired by or want to come back to.

    That’s the thing about the web now, for so many it is criticised for wasting time (which can happen anywhere). I see it as a crucial space to establish a virtual workflow that helps me do what I do better. Connecting to the professional network of thinkers in my field and using my blog, and sometimes twitter, as a space to track the thinking, connections, and enter that conversation in some small way.

    Part of the new habits would be experiencing the benefits of working openly on the web and making it part of your routine. That’s when it provides the most in return, at least in my experience, and I think both you and Will are suggesting the power of sharing thoughts, reflecting on your working, and framing a space for sharing your thinkign and resources in exchange for the thought and resources of others. This simple equation seems to get lost in the discussion about the web as a distraction—but it seems to be it would be akin to calling a library a distraction, or a university. Anyone could get lost in the stacks, but without them we’d be far worse off.

  2. Will Mackintosh on February 16, 2014 at 5:29 pm said:

    I have similar concerns about PLNs a mixed bag … it seems to me they risk destroying my concentration almost as much as they enrich my access to knowledge and expertise. I’m hoping that the use of digital tools will at least make my consumption more efficient, so I can consume the digital media that I’m used to consuming more efficiently, leaving time for an enhanced PLN or, alternatively, better concentration.

  3. Hi Jason,
    I tend to agree with you as well. It seems that making a personal learning network is as time-consuming as the writing I want to do, and the teaching I want to do. But, I also think that if I don’t do some of this, I am not accessing all of the connections I could make that would enrich my writing and teaching. So, I suppose I am somewhere in the middle – not convinced, but not opposed.
    Thanks for your thoughts.

  4. The PLN idea does seem to have wonderful potential as a way of making contacts, but for me, perhaps the greater potential benefit is in collaboration by not just making those contacts, but possibly sharing work and/or at least reflecting on its production. To the extent it facilitates a productive conversation, I think building this kind of web is great; to the extent it just facilitates conversation, maybe less so? Again, that comes down to a combination of learned habits, digital tools and their wise use, and the maintenance of those connections. I’m certainly not opposed, and do see some major advantages, but just expressing some ambivalence (this seems to be my pattern, huh?).

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