danah boyd talks about the difficulties of creating and maintaining social networks on campus.
Partner Researcher at Microsoft Research
Founder, Data & Society
danah boyd: At a university, the faculty have multiple roles. Many of them go into the profession in order to do research. And they teach sometimes passionately, sometimes not so much. And this creates a really awkward dynamic because the educational experience of students is not just shaped by the information that the faculty provide. The educational experience of a student is also shaped by the connections that they make while they're at school, and those connections can be formed in the classroom. Those connections can be a part of the educational paradigm, our whole pedagogical approach. But more often than not, faculty are terrible at this. Faculty don't think of this as part of their responsibility. They see themselves as trying to get information across. They test people on what they've learned of the formal lecture material, what they read or the assignments that they did. What I think is really important is that if faculty started to realize how important network creation was for our society, how much it parallels a lot of what they're trying to teach, there's an opportunity to be pedagogically engaged with network building, to be strategic about network building. But it requires faculty to go beyond what they are doing as the sort of least minimum responsibility into actually taking the educational components really seriously, and above all, it requires universities to take that seriously, to reward faculty for really being thoughtful about building the networks of the future.
Graphic: Diversity and Social Networks
boyd: In an ideal society, in an ideal organization, you want really diverse networks because people have different experiences, people have different backgrounds, different ways of knowing. They can bring so much to the table. But having people that are different coming to a table is actually really hard, and mostly people want to be around people that are like them. It's more comfortable. It feels reaffirming. And so people often self-segregate, and there's a concept in the study of social network. It's called homophily, which is the birds of a feather stick together. So the question is, how do you deal with this tension in a world where we have different kinds of networks? In order to really build those networks, you have to think about what will get people to bond, and more often than not, to get people to bond means taking them off of the technology and helping them find common ground somewhere else. It can happen through a mediated forum, but it often happens through school. It happens through military. It happens through going and doing a project together. So I think that this is this moment where we can and should be much more intentional about our networks if we want to have a more diverse and equitable society.