Facebook: I Quit!

Tonight, I decided to deactivate my Facebook account. Additionally, I deleted my Twitter account and my Yammer account.

I have actively used Facebook since 2007, Twitter since 2008, and Yammer since 2009. In the early days of Web 2.0, I was quite interested in how the power to interact, collaborate, and self-publish (all while reaching a large audience) had the potential to change society for the better. In particular, I held a fundamental belief that a more transparent, open society would be a better society.

I still hold these views but I don't think that Facebook, Twitter or Yammer are the tools to make this happen any time soon. Instead, I am focusing this year on bringing my teaching into Wikiversity and spending the extra time to take advantage of and contribute to Creative Commons-licensed material and accessible online publishers such as ANU ePress.

After much debate over the years with colleagues at the University of Canberra, I am ready to give the open source curriculum model a run and stop wasting my time on networks that don't really add much value to my research.

Using Web 2.0 in higher education has been an interesting journey. At each stage, I have immersed myself in various applications, technologies and devices early on, often only to find myself in the 'trough of disillusionment' just as everybody else is starting their journey towards the 'peak of inflated expectations'.

But my journey up 'the slope of enlightenment' to the 'plateau of productivity' has led to some unexpected outcomes.

At the beginning of 2009, the contract ran out on my i-mate JASJAM, a 3G mobile phone I had bought in 2006. I did not renew the contract and, after having used a mobile phone since the mid-1990s, I decided to see what life was like without one (see "Life Without a Mobile Phone"). Three years on I am happier, my telecommunications budget is healthier, and I marvel daily at the people around me who fill every moment gazing at or speaking into their handsets the moment they are alone. Or sometimes even when they are not!

I found that by having a mobile phone, I was actually paying for a device that others used to interrupt my time with my family. Ridding myself of the mobile phone facilitated a much better home life, and despite my being constantly online with my work, now when I walk away from the computer I am completely unplugged. Others have to wait until I am ready and I feel like I am in control of my Net interaction.

This year I am hoping the same will be true of removing myself from Facebook, Twitter and Yammer. Although I enjoyed the sense of community on Twitter in the beginning, it was quickly dominated by broadcasters and the intimate networks established by the Twitter pioneers disappeared in a torrent of "Twitterati". 

But Facebook was great to catch up with people from the past and to stay abreast of what was happening for my friends on the other side of the world. These things I will miss.

Yammer I found was a great way to communicate with colleagues and to try new approaches in a relatively safe environment. Yammer is like an Intranet version of Facebook that is restricted to members who share a common email domain-name (for e.g. @canberra.edu.au). This means that you can be candid about organisational issues you normally wouldn't want to share on Facebook or Twitter.

So in 2011, I introduced Yammer into my teaching in an attempt to sway my students away from that bane of my existence, email. 

My simple theory is that email is a reservoir, while a micro-blogging tool is a stream. When you receive emails, you are expected to respond. But the reservoir is never empty and quickly becomes a source of workplace stress. Add 1,000 or so students per year and email gets out of hand. And often by the time you respond to an email the problem has been resolved anyway, making the whole process a waste of time.

With micro-blogging tools, messages flow past in a stream, putting the onus on the sender, rather than the receiver, of the message. If I miss the message, then the sender must resend or revise and resend. Responsibility is completely reversed!

Regrettably, my attempt to use Facebook and Yammer as alternatives has had mixed results. Given the aim was to improve my efficiency in corresponding with many students, what tended to happen was that students would correspond via Facebook, if I didn't respond within moments they would contact me via Yammer, and then send an email - all asking the same question. 

Add to this an internal email function in the learning management system (LMS), and your life quickly becomes an endless stream WITH an overflowing reservoir, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year. Without institutional support, these levels of service are clearly unsustainable.

After 5 years of using Facebook, Twitter and Yammer in my teaching, I am back to square one. Unfortunately, email remains the dominant communication tool within many Australian organisations and old habits die hard.

But all is not gloomy, I have found wikis and blogs to be useful tools in the classroom and will continue to develop these in 2012. I will also be trialling the BYO technology model using some new teaching spaces at the University of Canberra. It really is an evolving process and I am pleased to be moving on.

But tonight, Facebook: I quit!