If you know the sociologist Mark Carrigan primarily via his twitter account (@mark_carrigan), you may be expecting the kind of in-depth, discipline-specific analysis that only a sociologist can deliver. Thankfully, this is not what you will find in this book. In fact, as a relaxed, useful, easy to read volume, it’s hard to believe it was written by an academic at all. And that is important. Not doubt there is room in the world for complex postmodern readings of how the linguistic innovations prevalent on Tumblr evoke a reprise of the aphorism form as embodied by Seneca (or not), but that doesn’t help a very widespread and specific problem with capability, confidence and value in relation to how academics view Social Media.
I did wonder about the order in which Carrigan handles the topics, in that worries about professional identity and time management are often obstacles that people feel come between them and engaging with Social Media, and these come towards the close of the book. There is a rationale in that a fuller discussion of these topics requires some familiarity with why one might want to use Social Media, and how then to achieve these goals, and there is a robust case made for the potential benefits early on. Reversing the order of the sections would, no doubt, have had its own pitfalls, but that’s old-fashioned linear media like books for you.
The experience of many is that there is a constituency in Universities who are relatively comfortable (or more) with Social Media, and who see certain benefits in both using these tools for learning and the profile of themselves and their courses. This group will find much to concur with in the way Carrigan approaches the topics, and they may find the breadth of the book useful (that is, they’ll probably learn things). This group of readers will probably find things to disagree with here too, and where they feel there is more to say. In this way, and perhaps more so than it appears on an initial flick through its pages, much of what is here feels like a jump-off point for a more in-depth conversation. This shouldn’t come across as a negative point about the book, and I can see sections being used to excellent effect as the basis for more fulsome explorations at staff development events, in (virtual and IRL) forums, and in print/blogs.
There are also sceptics. Some of these have good reason to be unconvinced, fearing that the depth of their work cannot be conveyed in 140 characters, or that their professional life will seep into every waking hour, or that they will end up as not only a deliverer of their course, but also the person responsible for marketing it as well. Then they (rightly in many cases) fear trolling, mockery and also wonder if they have room in their (academic) life for yet another form of (in this case, potentially unlimited) procrastination. It is the latter portion of Carrigan’s book that tries to deal with some of these concerns. He resists dismissing these potential concerns with the evangelical zeal that some Social Media advocates seem to embody, and is alive to the challenges of the reality of contemporary academic life. This helps to establish his credibility, and he writes about things you can actually do, to extract maximum value from your time input to social media (most notably, automation and scheduling of activity).
There is another constituency of sceptics who represent less a concerned and balanced view; whenever Social Media is mentioned in a staff meeting, or idle conversation, they respond with “no one wants to see pictures of your breakfast, Professor!” This might be followed by a look around to see which chortling wits they can include in their cadre of look-at-us-being-cynics. Actually, many such academics might rather enjoy and benefit from having a wider audience for their work, wit and, dare-I-say, ego. This book would actually be of huge benefit to them, but they probably wouldn’t dream of reading it. Buy it for Christmas for them anyway.
For the rest of us, whether veteran of numerous failed platforms, twitter-storms and work-life balance battles, or slightly unsure whether our habit of posting selfies and cat memes on Facebook can translate into useful skills in our academic life, there is something here worth engaging with. I was pleasantly surprised (I’ve adopted the fashionable Stoic notion of making my experience of life better by radically lowering my expectations) – the book treads a careful line between being a For Dummies guide (which it isn’t, academics aren’t dummies. Not at all), and a thoroughgoing analysis of the phenomena of Social Media – and I can see myself both returning to it, and recommending it.