The Perilous Paradox of Social Media in Higher Education

If you’re a post-secondary faculty member in 2017, I implore you to invest the mere 10 minutes necessary to truly absorb this posited paradox. We live in very interesting times to say the least. An arms race for attention, which began in the late 90’s fueled by the dawn of the modern Internet, is coming to a head. And while how serious you intend to take it is entirely up to you, make no mistake, apathy and lack of foresight will lead inevitably towards a single perilous fate for humanity (one tragically unaided by our recent choice in politicians).

The proverbial nukes (social/mobile media in the context of this analogy) have been tested, and their immense power undeniable. What more proof do we require in order to understand what’s to come? More people currently own a cell phone than a toothbrush; every second, more than 500 hours of video is added to YouTube; Facebook’s population is more than twice that of the United States; Each minute, Instagram users post over 48,000 photos; and Snapchat users watch 6 billion videos every day (and that’s broadly speaking; the figures when looking specifically at student demographics are much more staggering).

The primary focus of our students’ attention cannot be questioned, and I’m sorry to say, but your cleverly narrated, auto-advancing PowerPoint doesn’t cut it in 2017 (don’t even get me started on lectures). Where students are devoting MOST of their attention is unquestionably where faculty are investing the LEAST. This reluctance to understand (much less embrace) the current technological state of our society and culture is a perilous paradox indeed.

Fortunately, like the Caribbean Crisis of 1962, the writing is on the wall and we’ve been provided the necessary intelligence to turn the tides if we’re willing to take action. As educators in the modern age, we have a simple choice. We either sit idle and watch as our student’s attention gets siphoned by corporate advertisers and crafty influencers, or we come to terms with our insecurity, hesitancy, and irrational romance for tradition, and do the very thing we’ve always asked of our students, take ownership and learn before it’s too late.

Facebook doesn’t care if you don’t see the value of live video; they will continue to harvest attention at astonishing rates. Instagram gives zero shits when it comes to your unwillingness to learn about filters and social storytelling; they will continue to attack the teenage market relentlessly. Snapchat couldn’t care less that you still think it’s just a platform for teens to send scandalous selfies; they will continue to innovate and move well beyond the current $25 million valuation. These platforms (along with a few others), which collectively constitute “social media,” (or perhaps more accurately represent the current state of the internet) are only a glimpse of what’s to come, and if you’ve come to accept this reality, then free yourself from the delusional notion that the momentum of technology will somehow subside, or even more absurdly, cease altogether. Apocalypse aside, this train is forging ahead, and it’s only bound to pick up speed as we go.

As educators, we have one move in this game. Become the digital practitioners we see in our students. Stop fearing the inevitable and work to collectively reclaim our student’s attention. For all students who are currently enrolled in post-secondary education, I would guess that less than 5% of their interactions on social media are initiated or influenced by practicing faculty. This is simply a failed opportunity that we can either confront with honesty or ignore with indifference. It’s not a question of whether our students will live on these platforms in the future, it’s a question of whether we as educators have the audacity to meet them there.

If you’re ready to make the investment, but need some added inspiration, I’m happy to have a conversation. All you have to do is ask.

Contact | @taykendesign