True, the “should academics use Facebook?” article is fast becoming passe. (See also: “should academics blog?”, “should academics use MySpace?”, and “should academics navel-gaze?”) However, a recent post on the HNN (History News Network) is a particularly good example of the species. In a discussion of whether historians should use Facebook, historian Jesse Lemisch sets out some helpful analysis:
Why should historians be on Facebook? I think it has the potential to be an electronic version of the halls of the AHA: a place of lively and utterly informal talk about what historians are doing and saying, and what’s going on in their lives. Just as Facebook threatens to replace college reunions, it can constitute something like a professional meeting, between professional meetings. (Note that “something like”: I have no desire with this proposal to replace professional meetings, but rather to extend them.)
I value the papers given at the AHA and OAH, but I generally come away from these meetings as well educated by conversations in the halls, and while prowling the book exhibits. Somebody has mounted a stupid and uncomprehending attack on me in a book whose galleys are available at booth 432. And there he is, at booth 927, hiding, but available for animated conversation. Here’s somebody you haven’t seen in years, and, thank goodness, she has a name badge. And, you find, she is doing fascinating work. Here is somebody who responds to regards to the spouse with a facial expression that tells you immediately that your information is no longer accurate. And here are historians of all stripes, and information about new sources and new work and controversies not yet erupted. And so on: readers of HNN know what happens in the halls of the AHA. For better or worse, all these things can happen on Facebook.
This sounds like an admirable enough goal. Why not chat about books, vacations, restaurants, and whatever else on Facebook?
There are interesting parallels to law. For instance, of conversations I’ve had at AALS, I’d say maybe a quarter of them have been purely law conversations of the type it would be hard to have online. But the majority have been general-topic chats of one kind or another. Ideally, Facebook and sites like it can facilitate the broad, cocktail-party mingling that helps keep law professors — a notoriously socially awkward group — connected and in general contact with one another. In theory, this could be good. (On the other hand, it’s awfully tricky to gossip on a public forum.) Right? What’s not to like about it?
I would write a lot more about how law professors could use Facebook, but duty calls. II have an urgent appointment to attack Nate’s zombie with my vampire before my daily attacks expire. Then, perhaps after a few games of Word Twist, I’ll be back with Part 2.