Separate Worlds

My 17 year-old son has friends from school that he like to hang out with.  They go bowling and go to the movies.  They play online video games and go out to eat.  They do all the things you would expect a group of teenagers to do. They are all within 4 or 5 years of each other.

My son also has a group of cousins.  The cousins get together every couple of months, mainly because of a family get together or some sort.  They hang together because they all have to be in the same place together on occasion.  They like to do things like video games, bowling, movies – basically, they like the same things that my son does with his school friends.

Once, his school friends wanted to go bowling, but the cousins were over.  I suggested that he take the cousins bowling with his friends.  Oh my goodness!  Apparently that wasn’t acceptable at all.  It was as though I expected him to walk on a tightrope between two buildings, 100 feet in the air.  His explanation?  “My worlds can’t mix.” 

Bernadette Longo, in her article “Using Social Media for Collective Knowledge-Making: Technical Communication Between the Global North and Global South” discusses the expectations of students to utilize social media and technologies from their real lives in their student lives. Outside of school, students create and share content. Longo asserts that professors struggle to incorporate this outside learning interaction while still maintaining their position of knowledge in the classroom. The problem is that if educators don’t address the technological expectations of students, students “may tune out of their academic lives” (p. 30).


My son was very successful at keeping his worlds separate.  Social media is the place where he couldn’t do that.  Things he posted, things he shared, and content he created opened up dialog between him and his friends, him and his cousins, and his cousins and his friends.  In addition to social media, technology in general helped meld his worlds.  My son created a server in our home in which he ran a Minecraft game.  Only those he invited in could access it.  He would play Minecraft with friends.  When friends weren’t available, he invited in his cousins.  Before he knew it, friends and cousins were logging on at the same time.  He even found that they played together even when he wasn’t live.  After playing Minecraft together, they recognized each other’s names on Facebook and Instagram.  They began to interact outside of Minecraft. The worlds have met and they like each other.

When they came together in real life, they all knew each other.  My son had to go to a wedding where all of the cousins would also be.  Since it was my other son’s wedding, I hired some of the friends to help “work” the wedding.  It all went well at first, but since the cousins and friends began to figure out who each other were, I ended up paying a bunch of kids to dance, hang out, and have fun. 

I understand the two worlds idea.  Once upon a time I used to be much more verbal and active on my Facebook page.  Now that I am “friends” with colleagues, co-workers, family, promoters, various bands, and other “worlds,” I am very careful not to make political posts, emotional posts, overly personal posts, and the like.

Longo says, “For technical communication teachers, establishing learning environments in which students learn from each other — as well as from people outside the classroom — provided opportunities for authentic learning that can prepare students for the workplaces practitioners now encounter.  Using social media in classrooms, teachers can recreate professional settings in which technical communicators learn about users directly.”

Using blogs and discussion boards bring social media to the classroom.  The fine line in my eyes is incorporating more public venues of social media into the classroom.  I like to keep my academic world separate from my personal world.  I also keep my professional world separate from my personal world.  Although, I utilize social media as though my world were mixed.  Although, I want my personal world skills be be usable in my academic world. 


Longo, Bernadette. (2013). Using social media for collective knowledge-making: Technical communication between the global North and South. Technical communication quarterly. DOI: 10.1080/10572252.2014. 850846.

Posted on November 13, 2016, in Social Media. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. I really like how you were able to connect your son’s two social worlds with Longo’s article. I agree that students should be able to differentiate how to use social media for business while still maintaining autonomy for personal use and at some time those two worlds may collide. It’s also important to understand who you’re potentially communicating with, such as your example of not being as active on Facebook due to the connections you have. I also have suppressed much of what I post publicly on Facebook since I added family members and former students because I want want to sound offensive or “hang out my dirty laundry” for everyone to read.

    Understanding there are many other social media sites and that each has its own purpose as well as audience is important to bring to the classroom to analyze and discuss. I think more Millennials are receiving this type of education, which will be helpful when they obtain their first jobs to understand how to best use social media and what’s acceptable.

    • I agree with Alicia: excellent connection between your son’s “worlds colliding” and social media uses/audiences. Currently, i see several people on Twitter asking their followers if they should create a separate account to be able to vent their political frustrations. Not for reasons of offending anyone, but with the idea that their original intended audience of X might get annoyed by this new focus on Y.

      I have 2 Twitter accounts, one that I use when I teach with Twitter since that will be mainly my students as audience, and my original one which has various scholars and pop culture associations. I know that in the past that audience of scholars probably didn’t care for my livetweets of Dancing with the Stars [I’m not watching this season, so they’re safe!], but it can become too complicated if you have to separate out all of your identities. Still, in the case of the teaching with Twitter, I prefer students create a new account for the purpose of our class, which is based on this university advice and the idea that I don’t need to see everything they’re posting:

  2. Yes, that’s an excellent point. Many people don’t realize how their social media lives affect their real lives. The two really are different. Our social media self is somewhat controlled. We get to choose what we share and what we want the people to see. Rants, opinions, derogatory statements or photos can determine whether or not someone gets a promotion, a job, a new Facebook friend, a relationship, etc. It’s great for people to learn that social media is a tool that can be used for their professional lives and careers, therefore minimizing the “junk.”

  3. You bring up an excellent point here, one I really hadn’t considered. I think you’re exactly right, it is hard to find a balance between your “worlds” and that could prove a difficulty in utilizing social media for the classroom (or professionally). I have learned, the hard way, that it’s often best to keep your personal social media accounts separate from your work life (as you mentioned), and the same can be said of the classroom. I think having more than one account is the way most people deal with this – like your son keeping his worlds separate, each profile corresponds to a different world.

    Additionally, your son’s example does prove the incredible networking ability we now have because of these technologies, which can be extremely beneficial.

  4. I think this generation more than any other is accustomed to wearing a face. We all wear different masks in different situations. I wouldn’t behave with my boss the way I behave with my girlfriends on a night out, the same way I don’t behave with my husband the way I behave with my friends. Different people bring out different aspects of people’s personalities, and the same goes for how we behave online. There are some people who don’t seem to have any sort of filter when it comes to their online persona, but I think for the most part people are picky choosy about what goes online and what doesn’t. Our online voice and online presence are just snippets of who we are in our day to day lives. One of my favorite pieces of advice (can’t remember anymore where I heard it): “Don’t compare the film of your life to someone else’s highlight reel.” My mom said something similar when I decided to join Facebook last month (at age 29). She said, “Don’t feel bad about what other people are up to. Don’t have FOMO. You’ll see your friends doing stuff and maybe you weren’t a part of it, but you can’t feel bad about it.” I’m like, mother, I’m an adult. But it’s good advice to keep in mind. Who we are online isn’t necessarily the best representation of who we are on the whole.

    • I like how you describe wearing faces. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but it’s so true. Some of my friends hold the same or similar opinions as me. When we’re together we can talk religion, politics, and other controversial things. Other friends have very different views – we steer clear of those topics. So I don’t want to plaster my Facebook with my opinions. It’s funny, but when you said some people don’t have any sort of filter, a couple faces popped into my head. An emotional eruption on Facebook might evoke sympathy from some, but many will view it as attention seeking or unstable.

      Also – I love your mom’s advice. Have you heard that Facebook envy is a thing? Apparently, Facebook profiles tend to create envy and jealousy when people post about their trips, their new cars, homes, etc. I don’t blame people for wanting to share those things with the world. After all, they are happy and excited. I’m probably weird for this, but I love to look at vacation photos that people post. I don’t post a lot, but when I do, I try to keep it real. I don’t want to try to make my life look perfect, but I’m not going to dump my emotions out either. Also, I try to be careful not to post things that will affect someone else. I was so excited that my son was coming for a visit that I posted, “Danny comes home today!” But then I immediately messaged him to see if that was ok because he was only home for 2 days and wasn’t going to contact his friends. I once thanked my sister-in-law for taking us out to dinner, but then instantly took it down because I didn’t want to make anyone feel bad for not being included or obligate my sister-in-law to take other siblings out for dinner. Sometimes, it’s easier not to post anything at all then to think about how all of my different worlds will react.

    • I also try to keep my “worlds” separate, especially professionally. I think Turkle would attribute your son’s aversion to worlds mixing to the identity part of social media. A big part of the attraction of social media, especially for teenagers, is the ability to create an identity and the process of self-discovery. Molly — I think you’re right that we can short-circuit that by comparing ourselves to others’ finely-tuned online identities instead of recognizing that there is still “real life” behind it. In some ways, I think it’s always true that we’re trying to present our best selves or project a certain image, but social media certainly amplifies it.

      I wanted to comment also on your point about worlds mixing in the educational setting. I hadn’t thought about it before, but if teaching tech literacy is as crucial as some of the authors suggest, I’m not sure how we do that worlds touching. To teach students to be smart users of social media, do we have to bring social media in to the classroom — at least to some degree? (Or, I should say, formally recognize it, because I’m sure it’s already there!) I wonder how “in the weeds” of social media an instructor would have to be in order to teach a classroom of middle schoolers some of the basics about privacy, identity, and healthy skepticism.

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