Category Archives: Life

An Update

I’m excited to announce that I’ll be joining the CUNY Graduate Center this Fall as Advisor to the Provost for Master’s Programs and Digital Initiatives. My charge there will involve working with the Provost and Associate Provosts to promote and strengthen existing Master’s Programs and to develop new degree programs. I’ll also be collaborating on a variety of digital initiatives with many members of the GC community. It’s an exciting opportunity and I’m looking forward to the work that lies ahead.

While I will continue to teach at City Tech as I take on this new role, I regret to say that I will be unable to continue serving as PI on the U.S. Department of Education “Living Lab” grant. That project has gotten off to a fast and productive start, thanks to the extremely hard work of the entire grant team. In our first year, we’ve had an initial cohort of faculty members participate in a newly designed General Education seminar; we have built the first iteration of the City Tech OpenLab, a socially networked, community-based platform for teaching, learning, and sharing that is currently in a soft-launch; we established the Brooklyn Waterfront Research Center, which has already become part of NYC’s long-term vision for its waterfront; and we have laid the groundwork for numerous other projects that are currently in the pipeline. I am grateful to be leaving the grant in the very capable hands of my friend and colleague Maura Smale, who will be assisted by our excellent Project Coordinator Charlie Edwards and a wonderful team of colleagues. I wish them the very best as they continue the work that we have begun together, and I look forward to remaining involved in the project as it moves forward.

Why I Left Facebook

I deleted my Facebook account a week ago, and I’ve been working on a post since then explaining my decision. But my draft has grown superfluous with every passing day as an increasing number of news outlets have covered the problems surrounding Facebook’s recent privacy policy changes. If you’ve somehow missed the news, you can catch up by reading the following pieces:

With that ground already covered, this post is not going to center on the general issues surrounding privacy on Facebook; instead, I want to discuss some of the personal reasons why I quit, in part as an explanation intended for the network I left behind.

Thinking About Leaving
[pullshow id=”personalprofessional”]I had robust networks on both Facebook and Twitter. Like Luke Waltzer, who described his reasons for staying on Facebook on his blog, I used Facebook mostly to connect to people from my past, while on Twitter, I connected mostly to colleagues in my academic field. Over time, these networks became somewhat interpenetrated, but generally, [pullthis id=”personalprofessional”]I thought of Facebook as a quasi-personal space, and Twitter as a quasi-professional space[/pullthis]. It was on Facebook that I posted photos of my ten-month old baby and on twitter that I posted links to articles about the digital humanities.

I’ve heard friends and colleagues — people who quit Facebook in recent weeks, like Boone Gorges, Dan Cohen, CogDog, and Carlo Scannella, or people who never never joined, like Dave Parry — claim that they rarely visited Facebook anymore and that they no longer valued the connections they had made there; it had stopped being a valuable space for them, and when Facebook compromised the privacy of that space even further, leaving became an easy decision.

That wasn’t the case for me because I valued, and continue to value, the wonderful network I had on Facebook. I loved sharing baby photos with friends there; I loved the funny and ironic status updates that my friends posted, and that led to humorous discussions in the comments; I loved the support and camaraderie that members of my network showed for one another.

Photo by kbaird

I remember Dan Cohen tweeting that one reason he had left Facebook is that anyone who wanted to contact him merely had to google him to find his online portfolio, blog, and email address. While that is true for me, too, I know that leaving Facebook means that I am leaving behind conversations that won’t happen elsewhere. Yes, my old college and grad-school friends can email me if they want to, but it’s a whole lot easier to post a comment on a status update than it is to send an email. Most people have a to-do list of emails that they need to send; no one I know has a similar list for Facebook comments. The ease and speed of the Facebook platform made connecting to others both easy and fun (and that ease of sharing, of course, is what built up a critical mass of members and equity in Facebook).

I most emphatically did not want to quit Facebook, because my network was very valuable to me.

And that was exactly why I had to quit.

How We Value Our Networks
The idea of “network value” recurs in many of the posts I’ve seen about Facebook; my friend Boone Gorges used it to explain why he had quit Facebook, but not Google, even though both platforms compromise the privacy of their users. His Facebook network wound up having little value for him, but the functionality provided by Google’s services (mail, docs, chat, calendar, etc.) was so valuable to him that it was worth the cost of lost privacy.

[pullshow id=”value”] What I came to realize is that [pullthis id=”value”]the more I valued the connections I had made on Facebook, the less I thought they should be happening on Facebook[/pullthis]. I very much wanted to share photos of my baby with family and friends, but I didn’t want to share them in a space run by a man who believes that privacy is dead.

It’s that simple: I deleted my Facebook account because I loved my facebook network and didn’t want to see my interactions with it mined relentlessly by a company without scruples. And now, a week after deleting my account, I miss that network terribly. But I will not go back to the site because in enabling connections between friends, it corrupts connections between friends. It simultaneously creates and undermines the value of member networks — from the member’s standpoint, at least. Facebook itself only gains value as it data-mines user networks.

Open Alternatives

Photo by amanky

It’s important for us to remember that as strong as Facebook is, it is not the only social-networking model out there. Indeed, one of the primary reasons that I quit Facebook is that I recently watched an immensely powerful talk by Eben Moglen of Columbia titled “Freedom and the Cloud.” In an hour of brilliant lecture that is part history lesson and part jeremiad, Moglen describes the central problem with cloud-based computing (“you can’t point to the server”) and lays out a vision of a free and open-source social network that can replace sites like Facebook. I urge you to watch; it’s what pushed me over the edge and finally got me to quit Facebook.

You might have heard about Moglen’s talk in the recent New York Times article on Diaspora* the open-source Facebook alternative that four NYU students started building after hearing Moglen speak in February.

I’ll rebuild my Facebook network there, or in some other open space, as soon as I can.

And as for Google? Well, maybe I need to watch that Moglen video one more time.