Don't get me wrong: of course there are thousands and thousands and thousands of academics who are out there blogging, tweeting, networking in all kinds of ways. I participate in a very active network of what must be a hundred or so people that I interact with on a very regular basis (Google+ is my main hangout), and the people I feel connected to in my network are almost always, in turn, participating in networks of their own, so I get the benefit of what they share that I would not see otherwise, etc. etc. It's wonderful!
At the same time, there are 1500 full-time faculty members (I think that is the right number) at the public university where I teach, but very few of them have any public online presence at all. Indeed, for many of them the top search result for their name turns out to be their page at RateMyProfessors.com. Ouch. That is surely not a good thing. Yet at the same time, the tools for getting online and connecting with others have never been more abundant or easier to use, just as Jonathan points out in his overview for Unit 2 here.
Likewise, there was a great piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education (the CHRONICLE for crying out loud: about as mainstream and middle-of-the-road as it gets for academia) that took up this same idea that there's never been a better time to get online: Brian Croxall's How to Overcome What Scares Us About Our Online Identities. Yet Brian does not really answer the question as promised in that title. His answer is that there is nothing to fear (which is true), but if people's fears are largely irrational (as they are), simply telling them that there is nothing to fear is not going to be enough.
Here is the comment I left at the time (I don't often comment at Chronicle articles anymore, but this is a topic I really care about... so I left a comment there at what was a strangely lackluster discussion, even by Chronicle standards):
The thing I don't understand is that this is pretty obvious stuff, right? I think the resistance to online goes deeper than the fears listed here. In particular, I think it is PERFECTIONISM and the intense fear of making mistakes that permeates academia. Making a mistake ONLINE where anyone can see it... end of the world. So, it's not really a fear that someone will steal your ideas... rather, it is the fear that you will make a mistake and others will see it. That's my guess anyway. And that is a fear you cannot even admit publicly because, in addition to being perfectionists, we have to pretend that we are perfect already, so why would we ever fear making a mistake...? We never make mistakes.
Now, some months later, this is still my best guess as to the inhibiting factor that is the biggest barrier to faculty participating in online networks. But honestly, I'm really not sure. As a recovering perfectionist myself, I know that it can be a very powerful fear. But perhaps there are other irrational fears just as powerful or even more so. Jonathan emphasizes the idea of motivators ("love your nerd" - agree! that sounds great!), but I think we have to also tackle, somehow, the DE-motivators that keep faculty offline, and I still think that the fear of making mistakes and being shown publicly as less than perfect is one of the biggest demotivators.
My students, thankfully, do not have this same kind of inhibition at all, so I can really let the motivators be the driving force, emphasizing all the good reasons for them to put their work online and learn to "love their nerd." Without exception, students do a fantastic job in my classes of learning how to use new media (blogs, websites, etc.) to express themselves and share online. Admittedly, they are rarely as nerdy as I am.... but that's fine. A little nerdiness goes a long way!
With other faculty, though, it seems so hard to get any real forward momentum. I'm dreaming of a blog hub for my school (hub dream notes here), but of course I realize that it is just a dream, one which is probably doomed, UNLESS I can gain some real insight into how one helps faculty make that crucial first step to shedding their fears and getting online.
Since that happened to me so effortlessly (my own online saga here), I have ZERO insight. Maybe others can help! Is there anyone reading this who did overcome fears to become the online person they are today...? I would love to know how/why that happened for you! :-)
And on the subject of fear, I offer two very different Latin LOLCats:
Ignorance is the cause of fear.
I fear nothing.