(Digital) Platform Jam

One thing I appreciate about Baylor professor Alan Jacobs is his willingness to process his digital practices publicly.  Jacobs recently posted an update to his ongoing attempt to make sense of various digital platforms and their effects on a life well-lived.  His end goal?

Mainly I want to eliminate day-to-day use of a smartphone. I don’t imagine that I can do without one altogether — they’re too valuable when traveling and in other special circumstances. But for my everyday life I want to get back to a dumbphone like the one I was using three years ago — before it stopped working with my network and the iPhone dragged me back in.

It’s been a while since I even countenanced such a possibility in my own life.  But I have tried to make some peace with social networking platforms and apps in my own little ways.  I removed the Facebook app from my phone and tablet a couple of years ago, which has been great for me in terms of distraction (perhaps not so great for communal connectedness).  I do keep Twitter on both devices and visit it frequently.  Twitter is almost a kind of professional development for me: it’s where I find out about recent online postings by my favorite authors and thinkers.  I also follow some pop culture accounts on Twitter, which sweetens the pot a little for me.  Twitter never became part of the framework for most of my friends.  The same can be said for blogs, really.  Both of these things have caught me by surprise at least a little bit.  Beyond that, the only social media platform I use is Instagram, and I only actively use that when I am traveling and posting pictures of things that are new to me.  I keep up with friends that way, of course, but that’s often with just a simple scroll.

I’m pretty ambivalent about social media.  Facebook often feels like an “all-in or all-out” platform for me.  I feel like I could use it more often in connection with this site, but I just don’t.  I had meant to post pictures of last year’s many trips, but it just didn’t happen.  I’m not very good with Instagram, either.  I’m pretty bad about “follow requests” on both ends.

It’s also interesting to track social media sites based on particular periods in my career.  When Facebook hit big, around 2008-2009, it was something of a deal to follow/be followed by recent graduates.  There was a little bit of that with Instagram.  But then I kind of drew a line at Snapchat.  I’m always surprised when I hear current students talk about their use of Twitter because it feels like such a “professional” thing for me.

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Jacobs’s other goal seems to be to remove the influence of Google from his life, which is a truly admirable thing.  Google is ubiquitous.  To be “at home” online basically means that Google has at least one or two dedicated rooms in the building.  But he’s found alternate ways to email and store documents and navigate maps, which seems cool.  After years of obstinance, I find that GoogleDocs has become a cornerstone of collaborative work at school, both with my peers and with me students.  A necessary evil, I suppose.

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I like Jacobs’s musing because they remind me that the question of being “locked in” to a platform is always at least a little bit at play.  Wiggle room is still possible with social media, though not without a cost.  I toy with leaving Facebook completely, but there’s an awful lot of life that “happens” there.  Beyond that, the sense of simply knowing the connections exist, however subtle, is worth something.

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