Monday, May 30, 2011

Adam Banks, Black Studies, and Facebook

Adam Banks often rewires the typical purposes of facebook.
[This piece is one in a series I'm developing on black studies, social media, and technological devices.]

Try to think back to how facebook was described to you for the first time. It’s a social media site where people hang out posting their photos, providing status updates on what party they are attending, what restaurant they are having dinner, and then having “friends” press “like” for posts that they, well, like. That’s probably something you heard about facebook early on, right?

Not Adam Banks.

He apparently heard that facebook was a space where the people are ready and willing to engage in conversations about race, sports, politics, music, new ideas, unanswered questions, and educational engagements with the community EVERYDAY. It’s likely that’s what Adam heard facebook was all about because that’s how he moves on the site.

As a black studies scholar, I utilize various web-sites and social media to get up-to-date information and perspectives on African American cultural issues and ideas.

On twitter, I follow @james3neal and @sociallifeofdna to build my knowledge about digital humanities and cultural issues related to genetics, respectively.I follow blogger Ta-Nehisi Coates and the Horde for lively discussions about ideas, culture, politics, and of course the Civil War.

And on facebook, I check out Adam Banks, a scholar and professor of rhetoric and composition at the University of Kentucky, who was a friend of mine even before facebook. 

I actually have hundreds of friends on facebook. Old high school buddies. Undergrad and grad school classmates. Colleagues. Artists. And various other fellow travelers. Collectively, they provide fellowship, inspiration, ideas, various updates, and supportive comments.

Adam Banks on facebook is something else though.

I rely on his updates to provide me with some sense of what our folks are talking and thinking about out any given day. He apparently has his ear to the ground on all kinds of subjects.

At one moment, he’s musing about black scholars (i.e. “You should check out this book by….”) The next it’s possibilities for activism (i.e. “how can we use this in the community to help folks with...”. At some other point, he’s brainstorming/urging new movements (i.e. “would love to see scholars write ‘chapbooks’ like poets do.")

He uses the “status update” as a conversation starter and the “like” function as a place-holder, that is, if he "likes" it, he's going to soon followup and explain how and why.

He also uses his updates as a kind of search engine. He'll throw out questions then work with folks who offer responses to search for and sharpen an answer, multiple answers. 

I met Adam back when he and I were graduate students at Penn State. Back then, like now, he was sharp, quick, and reading and listening to everything. The self he presents on facebook is an extension of how he converses face-to-face. On facebook, you just have the chance to witness his wider network.

Anyway, my comments here aren’t really meant to serve as an advertisement for "reasons to friend Adam on facebook." Instead, I’ve been thinking about the frustrations some of our black studies folks have expressed to me concerning the lack of “consciousness” on our campus and in their own social networks.  

In the fall at our brainstorming sessions, I’ll mention the case of this guy Adam Banks who rewires the typical purposes of facebook for black consciousness talk. And wouldn’t it be something if a couple of our young folks took on that kind of role in their facebook circles? I'd love to hear about more of my folks using the status update as a serious conversation starter or the update as a crowd-sourced search engine.  

What if more of my black studies folks pulled an Adam by doing more to utilize social media for facilitating engaging conversations about race, politics, music, building knowledge, and even brainstorming future possibilities?

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