Double-dipping on the recent series of articles from Inside Higher Education. In "The Facebook Mirror," Lisa Lebduska makes an interesting observation that the more you think your writing's audience is like you (especially holding similar beliefs about what you're writing about), the less likely you are to be explicit about your reasoning. And as a consequence, the quality of your writing suffers. On the one hand, it's good to preach to the choir every once in a while, but, on the other hand, without a devil's advocate around, it becomes pretty empty verbiage. Lebduska sees this in spades with the writing on Facebook:
On Facebook we never think outside the four walls of the self, and we need never imagine readers different from us. We expect neither argument nor curiosity nor challenge. Just a thumbs up or down.
This is an interesting observation, but a few things. I've kept a journal off and on since I was in high school. My audience for the journal is me. Usually me 5-10 years down the road. It's an exercise. I don't imagine myself all too different from me when making entries, but but I do expect some skepticism. So how is facebooking different from journal entries? Facebooking, according to Lebduska, doesn't even have that critical distance.
Teachers spend years working to broaden students' intellectual worlds beyond their own virtual backyards. We challenge them to discover ideas that come from individuals who might be very unlike them; people they would never conceive of friending, or if asked to friend would be more than likely to ignore
So Facebook backyardifies writing (my term!). That said, I think there are some subfields in philosophy that function similarly. Elsewhere, I've called them "societies of mutual verbal petting" (Forthcoming in Philosophy and Rhetoric 44:3). In light of this, Lebduska does make a nice point at the end:
The ability to imagine a perspective other than our own — the idea of an audience consisting of curious minds rather than adoring fans — defines our most effective writers. . . . If in reading their words we find that our young people have no sense of others beyond and/or different from themselves, we should supply them with that sense.
I'm not sure what Lebduska's suggestion amounts to in its specifics, but is it that we should be like essay graders in making responses to Facebook walls? I, by the way, have opted out of facebook — maybe it is my duty as a blogger and commenter on other blogs? It certainly seems that blog comments do that already. Is there a Facebook norm against criticism? It's certainly the case in the societies of mutual verbal petting!