I have been rather surprised over the past two years by what I perceive to be a lack of social connectivity amongst a number of LIS students. By social connectivity I mean students who are not only aware of a variety of social media tools, including social cataloguing and bookmarking sites, but who actively use them. It’s a little disconcerting when you realize that you are often the most socially-connected person in a room of students; granted, I am not perhaps the best example, since my use of social media is probably rather above average, but given the age ranges of many of our students, I would expect a higher level of awareness and use of these tools. I wonder to what extent our frequent discussions of the importance of privacy deters many of our students from using these tools.
It’s a potentially difficult tightrope we walk across as instructors. On the one hand, we need to discuss the importance of privacy and the integrity of our personal information, and highlight the pitfalls of many social application sites; on the other hand, it’s important that our students be not only aware of these technologies, but also use them effectively. I’ve heard from a number of employers that one of the first things they do with a candidate is to determine his or her social presence; a lack of such a presence can be seen as a detriment, since it may suggest that the candidate is not engaged in social technologies. I certainly think that one can maintain a degree of privacy with respect to social application tools and, perhaps more importantly, exercise proper good sense and discretion in what information to post in such applications.
Do we go too far, perhaps, in discussing the dangers of breaches of privacy to the point where we create a culture of near paranoia? I think it’s important that we include in these discussions the question of risk assessment: Do the gains I achieve from using social tools outweigh the potential of privacy breaches? How likely are these breaches to occur? Are such breaches more likely or dangerous than, say, handing over your credit card to a salesperson at the desk, who could quite easily take note of the number and expiry date and use them? What is the balance amongst efficiency, convenience, and privacy?