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PhD Candidate at Griffith University, mummy, wife, teacher, social media enthusiast, avid reader

Friday, 12 April 2013

Social media: the great good place

Loneliness is a part of writing a PhD. To even imagine completing a PhD you need to have some sort of equanimity with solitude. You are often alone with your thoughts. You are supposed to contribute to knowledge or be "the only one" with an idea. Your family and friends are supportive but you like to spare them the intricate details which you find fascinating. Meetings with supervisors are too brief to truly get into your head space. Add part time to the equation and you are less often on campus but rather at home (alone) trying to make sense of the massive task that is writing a PhD.

No wonder I can't leave social media alone.

I have Facebook for friends and family, Twitter for professional purposes, LinkedIn for my resume and YouTube for sharing (what I think are Sundance worthy) films of my kids playing. I used to have MySpace and I suppose I need Instagram. I admit. I love social media because it gives me a sense of community that was lacking in my life for a long time.

Ray Oldenberg (1997) writes about the "great good place" -- the cafes, pubs, bookstores, hair and beauty salons that are the social hub of many small towns. Places people went to connect and feel a part of a community. Post World War II many writers began to express nostalgia for the small town. According to Max Lerner (1957, America as a civilization), "the critical question is not whether the small town can be rehabilitated in the image of its earlier strength and growth -- for clearly it cannot -- but whether American life will be able to evolve any other integral community to replace it."

Is social media the evolutionary state Lerner was imagining? Is Twitter the new cafe? Facebook the new pub?

I have certainly found a sense of community on social media. While I am still at home alone in my post World War II cottage looking after the kids like a typical '50s lonely housewife, I have a sense of community. I connect with mothers on Facebook for park play dates. These mothers don't live next door but are just a quick drive away. I connect with my family who are scattered all over the world. I hold a cup of coffee or a glass of wine as I tweet with other PhD students, I hashtag with PhD mums who now know "someone understands", I share professional reading with other teachers who are not afraid of using technology in the classroom, I butt in on conversations I find interesting. I have made some great connections and friends. I may still be alone at home but I certainly don't feel lonely.

In our modern world can social media be added to the list of great good places?

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