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By David Leonard | with thanks to NewBlackMan (in Exile)

Monday, August 6, 2012.

Q: What happened after hackers shut down Twitter for a day? A: Twitterers were relegated to communicating the old fashioned way, through Facebook!

Q: Why is Facebook a great site for loners? A: Because it's the only place where they can talk to a wall and not be considered a loser!

Q: Why is Facebook like a refrigerator? A: Because every few minutes you keep opening and closing it to see if there's anything good in it! (Source)

It has become almost commonplace to mock social media.  Whether describing it as a distraction, as a waste of time, or a world that is otherwise detached from reality, there is almost a cottage industry at scoffing at social media.  Steve Tobak is indicative of this line of thinking:

Instead of living our lives, we're watching our timelines on a two-dimensional display. Instead of doing, we're content to observe events and post milestones on Facebook (FB). We're becoming a society of watchers.

Sure, I know you're all intelligent adults who understand there's a world of difference between watching and doing. But that doesn't change the reality that the vast majority of you are doing way too much observing and a whole lot less doing than you used to.

What's the impact of our crazy obsession with gadgets and social media? It turns each of you a little more into a poor, lazy, lifeless drone every day.

Irrespective of these jokes and the constant disparagement of social media as the demise of “civilization,” social media saved me.

A couple years ago, I often wondered about my career in academia.  Many nights (and early mornings) I contemplated other jobs, pining for anything, something other than my current existence.  I lamented going to graduate school, I lamented the academic culture, and I even fantasized about a world where I could have traded my Ph.D. for something else.  If it hadn’t been for student loan debt, financial obligations, my family, and my colleagues, I would have packed my books and bounced.  While partly a fantasy, and partly the result of the intoxicating belief that the job is always enjoyable on the other side, I genuinely considered leaving academia.  I thought long and hard about turning in my Ph.D. so I could become an ex-academic.

Between budget cuts, campus politics, disengaged students, societal disrespect for education and the stresses of life, I found myself continually asking, “does this matter;” I found myself hating the job.  Maybe it wasn’t even the job but faced with tragedies, when witnessing so much pain and suffering, none of it seemed to matter.  Whereas I spent so much of my life with freedom dreams, I found myself confronting nightmares.

This wasn’t just about hatin’ the job since a job "ain't nothing but work," but suddenly loathing everything that meant so much to me: reading, teaching and writing.   I wanted out.  I wanted to do something; really anything else.  And that is why it hurt so much.  I was slowly beginning to hate myself.   For so long, I had seen myself, my identity, and my very existence in relationship to being a teacher, a scholar, a writer, and commentator—working to dream the world anew.  In a sense, I hated myself because my identity was wrapped up in the “work.” Since it has never been just a job for me, my growing frustration and anxiety about the “job” was very personal. As a writer, teacher, scholar, and person committed to fostering conversations about equality and justice I felt as if I was betraying myself, betraying those who sacrificed so much for me, and otherwise taking advantage of my privileges by not using them in the pursuit of justice.  I was being selfish.  With these feelings and emotions, I couldn’t imagine another year, much less a lifetime on the academic grind.

Through personal change and the help of others, including a therapist, I am in a totally different place now.  In every respect, things have changed since then, a fact that I attribute to a community that I am honored to a part of.

In less than two years, I cannot imagine doing anything else; it is clear that this is my life’s work.  ‘Til death due us part.  This change has everything to do with community, finding love, support and respect in an ever-growing family. Although academic culture breeds individualism, isolation, and a silo mentality, my renewed place, passion and love is the result of my finding a community based in collective support, mutual engagement, and unconditional love.  What is most amazing about this community is that the vast majority of people who I can call on as colleagues, as friends, and as family are people who are hundreds/thousands of miles away, some of whom I have never met in person.

Yes, Facebook saved my academic career, and more importantly my sense of self and my passions for justice and equality; Twitter resuscitated my place and purpose as a teacher and writer.  These virtual spaces are not only spaces where I find inspiration and support, but also places where I learn, where in the face of so much pain and suffering, I find hope, possibility, and courage to move forward each and every day.

These tools and technologies often maligned as instruments of distraction and disengagement saved me.  They have brought me into contact with some amazing people, those who inspire and support, who not only encourage me to wake up each morning but to do better, to be better each and every day.  As with my family (partner; kids; parents; siblings) and my colleagues, my Facebook family and my Twitter peeps prop me up when I am down, keep me grounded when I am out of balance and most of all love me when I need it the most.  While others dismiss social media as distraction or as unreal, my experiences have been the exact opposite.  It has led me to reimagine my work and it inspires me each and every day; more importantly, everything from the messages and the conversations, to the connections and love is real.  For me, the benefits are real and so is the future.

Robin Kelley, in Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination, defines the relationship between dreaming and social change.  “People are drawn to social movements because of hope,” in response to the visions and dreams articulated through and within various social movements.[1]  The daily interaction I have in social media provide me with “visions and dreams” able to see a better tomorrow and my place within this fight.  Thank you social media family!


David J. Leonard is Associate Professor in the Department of Critical Culture, Gender and Race Studies at Washington State University, Pullman. He has written on sport, video games, film, and social movements, appearing in both popular and academic mediums. His work explores the political economy of popular culture, examining the interplay between racism, state violence, and popular representations through contextual, textual, and subtextual analysis.  Leonard’s latest book After Artest: Race and the Assault on Blackness was just published by SUNY Press in May of 2012.

[1] Robin Kelley, Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination (Boston: Beacon Press, 2002), jacket cover

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