The challenges of social networks

I’ve been thinking about two types of social networks these past few days, both the modern social network, such as Facebook or Twitter or Google+, as well as the traditional social network, the one that sociologists have known about for years. This network exists primarily in the real, physical world, although it now overlaps into the digital.  This network consists of the people we known, who influence the places we shop, eat, drink, worship, educate our children, vote, and complete a host of other social tasks.

Thus far in my “ac-ac” life,* my active networking has involved people either rooted very firmly in academia, or those who are definitely more post-ac than alt-ac.  In a recent helpful blog post, the editors at How to Leave Academia have created a helpful distinction between the phrases post-ac and alt-ac. Their lengthy post suggests that post-ac is further removed from the academic world, whereas alt-ac remains in the orbits of the academy. As I try to sort out where I fall on the -ac spectrum–realizing of course that this sorting-out is a work in progress–I’m aware of how much I’m leaning toward alt-ac. Academic librarians, museum workers, university center directors — these people have been or are on my list of who I’d like to talk to.  And each one gives more names of people to talk to who also fall on the same spectrum.

I do think I am more comfortable in alt-ac than post-ac, at least at this juncture. If my social network is keeping me networked-in to the academic world (roughly defined), that may in fact be for the best. Temperament-wise, I already know it suits me. I have an easier time envisioning myself in an alt-ac role than a post-ac role, translating my skills of research and writing to the corporate world.

There are elements of the alt-ac perspective that give me pause, and elements that give me hope.  Currer Bell and Lauren Nervosa write in the article I just mentioned,

“…alt-ac is at heart scholarly. It is interested in research, publication, and disciplinary conversation. “Academic” is an active and meaningful identity to an altac person. Alt-acers call themselves “Dr. So and So” and/or identify as academics. Alt-ac has people who identify as “independent scholars.” They maintain CVs. Alt-acers often maintain a research (or R&D) and publication profile, and bring their disciplinary training to bear every day on problem sets of great importance to higher education.”

Some of this definition I am on the fence about:

  • I don’t know that I need to be called “Dr.” on a regular basis. (I’m working out of the house primarily right now. Being called anything by a live human voice is a step in the right direction!)
  • I am not sure I want to be an “independent scholar,” since that implies keeping abreast of research in my field, and doing my own research. I wonder if I’d feel better about both of these elements if I felt more freed from the idea that’s hung over my head for years, that I need to do these things to get a job! Alt-ac for me is about not having to do these things to get a job, (at least, that’s the hope), and doing them if I want to.
  • I still do have a CV, although it hasn’t seen much added to it lately.

Perhaps what I like best about the alt-ac idea was encapsulated by Brenda’s comment on the Mama Nervosa blog, that alt-acs want to “do academia on their own terms.” That I can see myself getting behind: but is it practical? Everyone would love to do things on their own terms, wouldn’t they!

These ruminations have led me astray from the idea of social networks, admittedly, except to show the degree to which the network I’m still a part of influences the current shape of my explorations.

What’s missing, in my mind, is the online piece of my alt-ac life, which is not yet connected to my real name. I find this bifurcation frustrating. I expect that this blog, as it’s currently being written, is too personal to put my name on. My @postacbooks Twitter feed, too, since it links back here.  In some ways, not using my real name has made me feel like I’m living a secret life that my family and friends, (many of whom are quite regular academics) aren’t privy to, the implication being that what I’m doing is somehow shameful (because of being hidden). That’s an implication I’d like to avoid. In fact, in a perfect world, I’d rather not feel that I ought to use a pseudonym or have this bifurcation.

(At this point, the scholar in me interrupts with a few half-formed thoughts about post-modernity, the multiplicity of the self, and “isn’t it par for the course ‘in this digital age’ to have multiple identities”, so why am I worried about this at all? Because, like I said, I’m not terribly  comfortable with it.)

If any of you have thoughts on how to navigate this divide, please share them in the comments here or on Twitter!

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Obligatory footnote, since some habits are well worth keeping up:

*The phrase “ac-ac” was inspired this post at The Unemployed Philosopher’s Blog.

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5 thoughts on “The challenges of social networks

  1. This is something I’ve struggled with too. My blog is written under an “alias” but as I become more involved with the post-ac community and less involved with my former academic identity I would sort of like to “out” myself and use my real name!

  2. Great thoughts here, each of which could lead to a paper. On the other hand, really following them would need some hard nuggets from outside, that is, ‘research data’ to give them legitimacy in an external world. In the meantime, highly recommend maintaining the alias, as it protects your independence. Since this is partially about jobs, you do not want this to become part of the CV that you hand to a prospective employer. Instead, if and when something like that seems appropriate, translate a version to a ‘public’ avatar. Working in a modern word requires (if you want good pay) tailoring.

    Alt thought…are all the alt-ac and post-ac things written by previously addicted academics?

    Ah, Heidigger.

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