facebook is as facebook does

In his online article on Newsweek.com, Steve Tuttle journals his decision to quit facebook, after finding that he had wasted countless hours on the social network site:

When I think about all the hours I wasted this past year on Facebook, and imagine the good I could have done instead, it depresses me. Instead of scouring my friends’ friends’ photos for other possible friends, I could have been raising money for Darfur relief, helping out at the local animal shelter or delivering food to the homeless. It depresses me even more to know that I would never have done any of those things, even with all those extra hours.

Of course, the cynic in me wants to check in with Steve in a month or so to learn how much of his newly liberated time he now devotes to saving the world, since he admits his own lack of engagement in that last sentence.  Steve just doesn’t sound like a participant.  In other words, his use of fb was non-participatory – He didn’t wield the tool to make his life (or anyone else’s from the sounds of things) better.  Among other things, he missed the opportunity to become more involved in social change movements on Facebook, if that is something that he was interested in pursuing. 

Exactly a year ago today, Josh Catone blogged about fb’s ability to mobilize the masses on ReadWriteWeb:  

Another example of someone successfully using Facebook to enact change is the “For Every 1,000 that join this group I will donate $1 for Darfur,” which was started by NYU student Marek Grodzicki. The group has 424,000 members — or $424 — and Grodzicki is renewing his pledge for next year. That may not be a lot of money, but it’s almost half a million people who may now be more aware of an issue because a single person was able to reach them simply by announcing an altruistic act on Facebook and letting viral nature of social networking take over.

See, the thing that I think Steve (and his ilk) is missing is that fb, like any other tool out there, is what you make of it.  The danger exists in allowing fb to consume your time and energy in non-productive ways.  Seen as time-wasting and meaningless, fb becomes the next repository of what Clay Shirky calls “cognitive surplus” – the collective intellectual power absorbed by empty leisure time activities.  From this perspective, fb and the sitcom don’t differ in terms of their ability to suck the time out of us.  However, fb and other networking sites also offer the potential to turn that surplus into powerful, engaged and innovative participation in the world.

Confessions of a Skeptic

Ok, I have to admit something here.  I am a social network newbie (see “2 Resolutions and 3 Moments”).  Prior to taking the leap into facebook and twitter, I felt that they offered nothing to make my life more productive.  What changed?  I started to hear about people using social networking to expand the realm of their professional learning.  Tired of taking rigid professional development courses that aren’t nearly personalized enough, I took the leap. 

And what have I found?  A month in and I’m starting to connect with people who are knowledgeable in areas in which I am interested.  Through fb and twitter, I engage with folks from whom I want to learn.  I put out questions and participate in conversations that provide me with tools I can use to make my instructional practice better.  I connect with colleagues across the globe in Australia and New Zealand, as well as down the 401 in London and Toronto.  I share out my ideas and get feedback, as well as receiving great information and resources.  In other words, I get back what I put in.  My learning is personalized – I select the content, as well as the pace.  And yes, I do take some time to check out the adorable baby pictures posted by my colleagues and friends.