Gen X faculty, community, and social media
Posted by Melissa on March 4, 2010
This week COACHE (the collaborative on academic careers in higher education) released a study of Generation X faculty, “New Challenges, New Priorities: The Experience of Generation X Faculty”, based on interviews with a small group of faculty and administrators at three mid-Atlantic institutions. One of the themes that emerged from the study, particularly interesting in light of my last post, is the strong desire for community.
“It is perhaps the lack of community, and X’ers’ attempts to find it, that truly define the generation, providing a unifying theme for their experiences, and encapsulating what has changed for them from previous generations… Even once they have landed geographically, work-life balance is a serious challenge; the ever-increasing demands of work often leave faculty with little time and energy to build the relationships and connections necessary to establish a sense of community — particularly when combined with having to balance dual careers and childcare responsibilities.”
I’ve been thinking about how this desire for community intertwines with current trends in social media. I hear conflicting messages about whether social media (blogs, facebook, twitter, etc) bring us closer together, or replace genuine personal interactions with less meaningful virtual interactions. Like the faculty members surveyed, I long for a more genuine sense of community, but I acknowledge some of the difficulty in establishing connections is my own fault as I try to deal with a seemingly overwhelming list of obligations that eat up my energy and my time. However, I do find having colleagues as facebook friends allows me to solicit advice or keep up with people who I may not run into for days at a time. Reading blogs, some with authors I know personally while others I only “know” virtually, helps me remember that my experiences are not unique and puts my own situation into perspective. In many ways, I feel less alone on account of social networking, but feeling less alone is not the same as feeling connected. Do social media allow us to be lazy about making time for informal conversations with colleagues? Or with the current reality of overbooked schedules and family responsibilities does moving interactions into the virtual realm make sense?