Like many alums (including Steve Bainbridge), I've been increasingly dismayed at the Board of Visitors summary firing of Theresa Sullivan in only her second year as president of the University of Virginia. I won't get into the merits, although I've recently written on a related topic in the context of for-profit boards, and I am kicking myself for not getting a draft up on SSRN. The Washington Post quotes Jane Batton, of the Batton family that is arguably the biggest donor in the school's history (clocking in at a cool $170 million): "There may be good reason to replace President Sullivan — I don’t know — but it was handled in the worst possible way that has caused damage to the university." That sounds about right.
On the meta-level, what's struck me is how different my experience of this controversy is compared to what it would have been 6 years ago. Back then, I would have been obsessively following the story, checking the Daily Progress, WaPo, the Richmond-Times Dispatch, and using Google searches to get the latest. Maybe I would have been cc'd on an email blast from a concerned alum.
Now, every morning I scroll through my friends' status updates (yes, I'm on Facebook. No, if you're a current student you cannot friend me) and get up to speed on what's happened. More than that, by commenting on others' status updates I've talked with people passionately interested in this topic, many of them strangers, engaging in a real back and forth of ideas and questions. Friends that I'd forgotten or never known had any connection with Virginia shared their thoughts and concerns and conspiracy theories. Facebook (and Larry Sabato's twitter feed) have connected me to events unfolding 500 miles away to a degree that I find hard to believe.
No, my point isn't just that social media can be transformative. Yes, I have heard of the Arab spring. But even in a non-repressive regime, Facebook has its uses. Facebook scorn is somewhat in vogue now. Bumbled IPO, no path to profit, who uses it anyway? Rich Karlaard of Forbes writes: "I have not visited my Facebook page in two months. Almost every professional person I talk to who is over 25 years old has grown bored with Facebook."
I'm not bored. When something's happening in a corner of the world I care about, Facebook delivers. On ordinary days there's certainly time-suckage, but I'm not the kind of worker that can go non-stop. I need breaks between substantive work.
And Facebook beats the heck out of my old standby, Minesweeper.
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