Humans of Branson: Into the Void—A Branson Teacher’s Facebook
By Amanda Douglas and Aidan Linscott
Social media is a communication platform that is constantly changing what we share and how we share it. It is ubiquitous among millennials, even beginning to expand into the lives of young kids, but everybody uses it in their own way. A few weeks ago, we examined the Twitter feed of Avani Bahl, a Branson senior, and discussed her use of social media and understanding of how other students use it. After hearing a student’s perspective, however, we decided to talk to a faculty member about how he conducts himself online. Branson English teacher and senior dean, Jorge Rodriguez, agreed to discuss his use of social media, as well as his perception of its role in our society.
Jorge’s primary social media presence is through his Facebook account, although he also has a LinkedIn profile and a Twitter that he uses infrequently. Jorge described his introduction to social media: “I got [an account] my last year in grad school. I met a bunch of people that were all on Facebook and that’s how they all kept in touch.”
While Avani described her Twitter account as “representative” of herself, Jorge’s approach to Facebook is different. Mainly using it “for the news and [to] get information,” he described himself as “a consumer of the material,” posting about himself infrequently. He uses Facebook as a way to stay informed, following “sites like the New York Times” as well as “some of [his] friends’ organizations,” like the tutoring program of former Branson teacher, Tim Danner. Occasionally, he does post about himself: “I update my status if I’m traveling or something to let a group of people know at once,” but “there’s not much to learn about me other than what I would say out loud anyway,” he explained.
Of course, we were interested in what Jorge contributes to the Internet. When asked about the content of some of his other postings he said, “there’s not a lot on there—there’s nothing concrete that is not elsewhere.” Despite the overall lack of personal content on his account, Jorge says, “I would rather not” share my content, like photos, because “I don’t know if I like them.” He has “a lot of pictures of [his] cat” in addition to photos from his summers in Spain (where he runs an Oxbridge program), but decided to refrain from sharing them.
Fear not, dear reader! For even if we were privy to Jorge’s account, you might want to attach a tether to yourself so you don’t drift away in the great void that is the social media presence of an educator. It seems that a general trend among teachers and other adults that are in close contact with adolescents is that they tend to refrain from being open about their digital presence.
The chair of the history department at Branson, Anne Porter, had some interesting thoughts on the matter: “We teachers are all a little cautious about social media, I think, because it’s one place where our personal lives can intersect with our school lives in unintended ways. I might say or do something online that’s perfectly appropriate but not want my students to see me saying or doing it. It’s a challenge sometimes, because it’s not as easy as it used to be to keep a wall between our professional personae and our downtime [selves]. One rule that most schools have, though, is that teachers shouldn’t friend or follow students or let them friend or follow you.”
That rule, explicit or implicit, seems to be followed closely at Branson and similar institutions. Many Branson alumni, ranging from the Class of ‘15 to the Class of ‘98 and before, have said they maintain positive relationships with faculty members and teachers after graduating through social media sites like Facebook.
Social standards around social media are still in development as it is still a relatively new platform on the Internet. According to Jorge, “there was no equivalent when I was in high school.” Due to the relatively recent growth of social media, Jorge expressed adults’ concerns “about the fact [that] society doesn’t communicate enough to young people” in particular “about the potential dangers” of the Internet. Jorge did admit, “it’s an assumption, but I think I’m more careful than the majority of students” Since everything on the Internet is incredibly “permanent and public…people should be more conscious” about their digital presence.
Reader, before you dismiss such comments as nothing more than the misunderstandings of an out-of-touch generation, please note, there are some compelling arguments in favor of more cautious social media use. “Colleges and employers do look at social media,” Jorge says, and “a lot of people don’t appreciate that.” Of course, “there are also a lot of adults that aren’t conscious” of their digital footprint either, and both groups could be more aware.
Jorge believes that social media “is a tool” that “is more beneficial than it is harmful.” Of course, “you could get through life without social media,” and everyone did just a few years ago. But it can be a worthwhile element of our lives.