My avatar across the web: a photo of my feet in grey-white socks and brown sandals.

Ben Babcock

I read, write, code, and knit.

Teaching and Twitter

So, my students finally found me online.

Seriously, what took you so long?

Not to boast, but I’m easy to find online. There are few enough Ben Babcocks that my various accounts, not to mention my website, eventually show up sometime on a Google search. So I knew it was just a matter of time.

Knowledge of my online presence has spread quite quickly. I’m not that bothered. Long ago I made a decision to discard anonymity. While it’s a valid option, I found that in my case I wanted to be able to keep my online and offline lives as closely linked as possible. I knew that, with my chosen profession, this might pose some difficulties. However, it also provides a few opportunities as well.

After all, we are still figuring out privacy in the digital age. Having hit its 20th anniversary this year, the Web remains relatively new. My generation is among the first to grow up with it as a professional platform for self-promotion, self-aggrandizement, and self-expression. We have to suss out what is private versus what is personal. The bottom line, though, is that we are unquestionably making more information available in public (or to loose enough networks of people that it is, for all intents and purposes, public) than ever before. And it’s not going to stop.

I was already an adult (albeit barely) when Twitter became the new kid on the block. I already had experience constructing my online self and determining what I wanted to share with the unwashed masses. Now we have a generation who are growing up with all these services available. Facebook went from being open to a single university to being open to all universities, and now anyone over 13 can sign up. It is conceivable that parents may begin creating and curating social networking spaces for newborns, so that by the time children grow up, they will already have an online presence, complete with baby photos. Whatever the future holds, we can’t roll back the clock; we can only move forward.

Herein lies the opportunity. Just as with anything else involving safe conduct, it’s up to us, the adults, to be role models for responsible use of social media. There are certainly dangers to social media, but rich use of social media can be a rewarding experience. And as Web-enabled technologies become even more embedded into our lives, the very concept of social media is going to grow, expanding to fill niches that even now we might consider private (or at least unworthy of sharing). That’s going to lead to some interesting conversations about what’s worth sharing (versus what we should be remembering). But social media isn’t going to go away.

I fully expect that once the initial novelty of following the quirky Canadian teacher on Twitter wears off my new student followers will gradually grow bored and drop away. They’ll soon realize that I’m just as uninteresting as I appear to be, and that my tweets are more about technology, books, and culture than they are about all those off-the-chain weekend parties (do we still say “off the chain” any more?). And, hey, if links to book reviews and random 140-character musings on life in England work for them … well, welcome aboard new followers!

Now if you excuse me, I must obsessively catalogue more photos and decide what to release on to Flickr for eternity.