Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Social Media: Confessions of a Digital Immigrant

By Patrick D. Herron, D.Bioethics

Among my fellow faculty, who view my fondness for tweeting, posting and sharing content with a mix of apprehension and appreciation, I have been described as “savvy” when it comes to social media. I take that, as an extraordinary compliment, since my usage was very limited several years ago. My deliberate choice to professionally engage through social media started with its use in the teaching of medical students, searching for and sharing content of interest for faculty development sessions, networking with other colleagues, patient advocacy, and utilizing it as a tool to further my own knowledge base in multiple content areas (i.e. medical education, bioethics, public health, etc.). While my academic peers viewed this being a natural inclination, it was not. In fact, it took a lot of work!

Still though, some consider me to be a Digital Native (more on that later), but like many of my faculty peers, initially I didn’t know a “tweet” from a “feed” and the symbol “#” was the pound sign on my phone and not a “hashtag.” I’ve been asked often, “Where did you learn all this stuff?” and “How did you find the time to get into this?” As to where I learned it? Where else, but online! The most important thing to know about social media is that it is meant to be experiential and not something that can be learned without engagement. As to time, there’s no denying that using social media does require you to put in some effort. Your ROI (Return On Investment) is dependent on what goals you have for starting out and your own commitment to the learning process that will follow.

Digital Natives, as coined by Marc Penskyi, refer to those persons who grew up with the Internet and whose familiarity with technology and its application makes them native speakers of the digital language. They stand apart from those who have had to learn to adopt and integrate these new technologies into our lives as Digital Immigrants. I’m frequently reminded that my own status is that of immigrant as there are some aspects of social media usage that remain unfamiliar to me and I hear myself saying, “I just don’t get it.” Pensky would view this as a manifestation of my own digital immigrant accent. Like any accent, some people have ones that are more pronounced than others. The good news is that social media is very much like a proverbial melting pot of users! Yes there are many native speakers, but the majority of users are immigrants with the fastest growing age demographic being persons age 65 and olderii. The desire to connect with others transcends one’s age; it just has taken some of us longer to learn the new language.

Social media is all about communication and the relationships that exist among usersiii. In time social media and online technology will surpass traditional or legacy mediums of learning and communication (i.e. print material). I feel it is not only in my own best interests to continue developing my skills but an obligation to my students, colleagues, patients, and community members I work with to effectively partner with them in their evolving learning processes. That is why I’m proud to be a digital immigrant. Recognizing that my own emerging status offers an opportunity to be a resource for other immigrants as well as share insights formed before and during the dawn of the digital era with native speaking social media users.

Patrick D. Herron, D.Bioethics, is a 2014 graduate of the Loyola University Chicago Doctorate in Bioethics program. He is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Family & Social Medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, New York.

i Prensky, M. Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants: Part 1. On the Horizon, 2001. 9(5), 1-6.

ii Duggan, M., Ellison, N.B., Lampe, C., Lenhart, A,. and Madden, M. “Social Media Update 2014,” Pew Research Center, January 2015.

iii Herron, PD. Opportunities and Ethical Challenges for the Practice of Medicine in the Digital Era. Curr Rev Musculoskelet Med. 2015 Jun;8(2):113-7.