By David Leonard | with thanks to NewBlackMan (in Exile)
Monday, August 6, 2012.
What happened after hackers shut down Twitter for a day? A: Twitterers
were relegated to communicating the old fashioned way, through Facebook!
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!
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)
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:
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.
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.
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
of these jokes and the constant disparagement of social media as the
demise of “civilization,” social media saved me.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
 Robin Kelley, Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination (Boston: Beacon Press, 2002), jacket cover