“I thought we were friends.”

I personally have little experience with online social networks and games. This first week of classes, I have been fascinated by the relationships between students and professors on networks like Facebook, MySpace, and Second-Life. At first, I was excited by the possibility of connecting with a professor or mentor on a level that didn’t exist before (and I still am). To cast aside the professional relationship and interact as peers may have more to offer in the exchange of ideas than facing each other in the classroom.

But the more I think about it, the more I’m fascinated with ‘if?’ and ‘how?’ these network relationships become problematic. How is the professional relationship kept separate from the social one? Does it need to be? What problems arise when the two relationships collide? Do they ever collide? Please respond.

I have another entry to follow. I just wanted to get this one out there because I’ve been thinking a lot about it.


  1. thismarty

    On a related note, online domestic relationships can also become problematic, in some surprising ways.

    Check this out from the Wall Street Journal on August 10th of this year:

    Ric Hoogestraat is married to Sue and works at a call center in the Phoenix area but spends 30-plus hours a week inside the online Second Life video game, pretending that he is the digitally drawn Dutch Hoorenbeek, a 6-foot-9, muscular babe magnet who lives on his own island. That unnerves Sue, according to an August Wall Street Journal profile, especially since Dutch recently “married” a digital woman and set up housekeeping with their two digital dogs. (The real-life creator of the new Mrs. Hoorenbeek has never met Ric and says she never will.) Dutch and his wife spend hours shopping and motorcycling together, leaving Ric little time for Sue. “Is this man cheating on his wife (meaning Sue)?” the Journal asked. Lamented Sue: “You try to talk to (Ric) or bring (him) a drink, and (he)’ll be having sex with a cartoon.”

  2. laurabrunetti

    It’s interesting to think about how online social networks may help break down the professional hierarchy, both (initially) on the internet and proceed to foster more peer-like face-to-face relationships between, for example, professor and student. This was one of the biggest challenges I faced in the working world. I would often hear things like, “Well, we have to keep a certain level of professionalism,” “That’s not professional,” etc. and think to myself, “What does that mean exactly?”

    I suppose there are examples where I would agree there must exist some level of “professionalism” (anyone?), but I certainly think we’ve taken it too far when it comes to my wearing khakis on a day other than “casual Friday” being unprofessional.

  3. houssian

    So many things to say for just one comment….
    I personally like Facebook, I know that initially I “didn’t get it” and I still have never set up a myspace page, and I’m still not sure why I would want to (most of them are so fugly I can’t bear to look at them). Now, however, I enjoy being able to see what people are up to, keep conversations going, and see some moments in their lives that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to.
    I’ve been BIG into twitter (www.twitter.com/houssian) in the last couple of months. It’s like facebook status message pushed to you. I personally use it through gtalk and love it. If I weren’t a cheap bastard I would think about doing it through SMS too, which is the way it started. The reason why I like it is this (I read this on a blog somewhere, if I could remember the title or where I would search and link it, but I can’t) that it gives you a sense of peripheral social awareness. When people update twitter 4-10 times or more a day you get a feeling for what kinds of things they do, and what they are reading (a lot of people post links) and what they are writing (e.g. I get tweets about Kevin Makice’s blog and several others). If I have time I click over and read them when it comes in, if not I open a tab and then read it later. You just start to get to know people on a deeper level… a kind of level that is different than just hanging out with them more, or living with them, or talking with them more. It’s odd and often very compelling.

    To me it seems that even when I’m friends with someone when they are acting in some kind of an official capacity, I treat them more as that title, than the friend that they are, but that depends also on how well you know that person and how official the setting is, this was true even before online networking came about. For example in my mens group in church we have someone who is a the president of the quorum. Within the context of my belief system I would consider this person to have some measure of authority over those he has stewardship over. I also am good friends with this person. When I hang out with him I call him by his first name, we joke, go biking, double date whatever. At church in a meeting if I were referring to him, I would call him President So-and-so. For me at least that’s the way I see it.
    So to come back to your question, well we never call Jeff Dr. Bardzell in class, but if I were at a conference and I was talking to someone about Jeff’s work, or perhaps a keynote he just gave, I may in fact refer to him as Dr. Bardzell (OK that still sounds odd, but I probably would).

    I read that article, and the answer to the headling “Is this man cheating on his wife?” I would say YES. I know that many people may take issue with this, but my definition of infidelity in marriage is anything that would seriously harm your physical or emotional intimacy with your partner is being unfaithful to them. This is not to say that there isn’t a difference between just role playing online and actually doing the deed, because there is, but exactly what that is (besides the physicality of it) is something we’re still trying to figure out.

    I DO think that used properly online networking can break down the hierarchical nature of an organization to some extent, but that shouldn’t affect your level of professionalism. So to really get at your question, what is “being professinal” I think we are not looking at knowledge here, but really a way of acting. So what is acting professionally? I wish I had a good answer for you. On the one hand I would say it’s not taking things too personally, or not viewing what others do to you in the workplace as personal, but on the other hand we need to take responsibility for what we do personally in the workplace, and what the organizations we work for and represent are doing. If those organizations are doing something we don’t think they should we need to stand up and say something. I would love to hear others’ thoughts on this.
    As for dress code issues, what does it mean to be professional? I’m not sure but when I know that when I wear a dressy-ish outfit that I love (and I feel looks good on me) I feel differently than when I wear my sweats and a T-shirt. I just do, there is no explaining it. What is inappropriate for work, or in our case for school? It depends. In most cases it is socially acceptable (or at least legally acceptable in extreme cases) as a student to wear (or not wear) just about anything. I remember the naked guy on UC Berkeley campus back in the 90s (I had friends who had a class with him). My personal take on this is that sometimes I see some clothes on certain people that makes my thoughts wander where I would prefer they didn’t stray, I wish that wouldn’t happen, but is that my issue or the other person? Debatable I think.

    OK I’ll shut up now this has obviously been way too long.

  4. davidroyer

    Jordan, I have the same confusion. My facebook account is littered with drunken pictures of myself tagged by other people. I don’t mind the photos, and find some amusing, but don’t particularly want some of my profs to see them.


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