I attended #OER17 with many different goals and hopes, but all were surpassed and I came away having learned a most valuable, topical, and poignant lesson about our world and how we interact. I met people. Meeting people is something that we do and teach, or at least teach about, in so many ways. In my Psychology of Learning and Teaching class I even teach about meeting people – the value of social interaction, social context, the self, how children develop, but this day was a landmark revelation for me. I was aware not of teaching through the rear-view mirror of McLuhan but of not realising we are riding bicycles while others are driving on the same road with us. It is challenging to verbalise. This is a personal reflection with pedagogical implications.
People over a certain age have heard or seen infographics about ‘Kids who grew up in the 70s/80s and didn’t have technology…’ Don’t worry, this is not a rant. I loved it then and I love it now. (lots of love happening in this post) But, if you haven’t known life without something, you can only imagine it – and cannot know it, as in firsthand experience. I cannot know being deaf. Even when I was in an anechoic chamber, I heard the sounds of my blood circulating within me. I cannot know that, but I can empathise and imagine. At #OER17 I understood what I had imagined. It was not about being without, but about seeing beyond and in a new and more clear way. (image CC BY-NC-ND by Jyra Kaasinen)
This reflection stems from a comment that happened in discussion with a small group of people in the coffee/reception area before the first keynote. There were general introductions and someone said, ‘Oh, hello! I know you from Twitter’ ‘I read your blog’
and then came the golden arrow:
‘I met someone I knew online and I said their handstands were coming on’ …’I had a false sense of knowing them because of what they had been posting on Instagram.’
This is it. This is the kicker. Yes, it can be like celebrity life, where some tabloid splats things about people and a wide audience knows them, but it is also possible to know people and to form genuine friendships and working collaborations through a remote, technological basis.
The thing that made this comment so poignant for me is that I had woken up in the beautiful darkness and starlit sky to leave (after making the packed school lunches) at 4:40 for a very early train to London to meet someone I knew only online. You see, I had just been there, having breakfast (well pie!) two hours ago and yes, there was a definite sense of excitement and slight strangeness at putting a physical form to conversations and understandings, but it did not negate the fact that I did know that person.
The challenge comes in the social interaction when the medium changes. When you meet someone face to face for the first time there are protocols. Hello, how do you do (said the fine Englishman to his neighbour, waving, tipping his hat, and perhaps offering a friendly handshake)… you can imagine the 1950’s storybook… Today it may be more of a ‘Hey-‘ with a wave and a high five… but the point is that an initial meeting is not, by the textbook, embedded with intimacy. (by that I mean personal knowledge) So my realisation is that we as a society, especially as a society of teachers (since that is a hat I wear) have not articulated these different situations.
- Are we allowed to admit that level of intimacy upon meeting?
- What impact does knowing someone via their mind/spirit/thoughts before their physical body have?
- How do we communicate our understanding and experience of this?
If you consider that we are primarily a visual culture, (I am aware of this as a musician, and it impacts teaching, as I have to teach people to listen.) then it is HUGE that so many of today’s people – not even a younger generation – know one another without form. (as an aside, what a wonderful opportunity to bypass all sorts of primary physical judgements that can have such lasting impacts on people)
Back to the day and how those comments were manifest for me:
Breakfast 7:30 am. I met two people. One I had seen before and had some conversations with online, the other I had talked more extensively with online, but I had never met and had only recently ever seen a photo at all. When we met, face to face, there was a tangible moment of pause. (I’m afraid in my psychology brain I thought, I am a corporeal being.) Then it was broken with, ‘well give us a hug!’ There was a stepping past. It reminded me of musical learning, where linear learning by the book is often distinctly bypassed for a personal experience that is student-centred. There was no textbook. This was determined by how comfortable people were in their own skin, and it was a moment of owning the different conversations that had happened in the past.
There were other meetings at the conference. More hugs. Putting flesh and voice to typed words. Even the people I had seen virtually, there is something different about seeing them face to face. I was quite moved.
Throughout the day I was in contact with various people – on Signal and Mastodon (my favourite platforms) and yes, Twitter a bit. I like less the feeling I get there of shouting into the darkness. As mentioned earlier, it is possible to know lots about someone, but then when you meet, they don’t invite that conversation to pick up where it left off – perhaps they don’t even admit that it happened, somehow slipping into the purely physical meeting protocol of ‘how do you do?’ These possibilities co-mingle, and it is up to the humans involved to choose to allow a certain course of action.
My thoughts and experiences continued over the VConnecting session at lunchtime. My earlier meeting was planned. I knew I was going to meet those people. This was not. I was asked if I would be an onsite person to share bits of the initial reaction to the conference with people who were across the globe, dropping in virtually. A couple of those people also knew me. We had talked and shared stories, supported one another through challenges, laughed, and I certainly did not expect to see them, even as a talking head, right there with me. I am not going to explain that one- if you are curious you can watch the session HERE. I did take one screen shot of my face when I saw who was there.
What a way to challenge my understanding of meeting, social interaction, and how we understand one another. My mind was blown. I often tell my students that each experience is like a single mirror tile on the disco ball and it takes many to make the fantastic sparkle that lights up the night. -or I will use a crystal as an example – one facet can show a whole rainbow of experience, but how beautiful is the understanding when you can see the whole?
I had not anticipated or prepared in any way for the experiences I had, but the hope is that I was open. At breakfast we talked about the difficulty of students ‘choosing’ a profession in today’s changing world, and how important it was to create a skill base that could be malleable instead of pining for only that one job. (How many jobs for orchestral piccolo are there, as opposed to jobs for competent flute players & teachers across the music scene?) In her keynote, Maha asked what will we do to engineer settings to allow for inclusion? My answer was that I envision creating an open door. The possibility is there, the thresshold is apparent, I am waiting on the other side to greet you, but the choice is still yours.
Interestingly, I didn’t take a single picture of these people, not alone, not with me. I somehow wanted to honour and savour the memory as a memory instead of as an artefact. I’m sure there’s a whole post to be written on that decision, but that will be another story.
I still have so much to learn.
This #OER17 gave me so much more than the content of the wonderful presentations. Thank you #OER17
Featured image is a photo taken by me of my friend’s kitchen cabinet. Gives us food for thought about opening doors. 🙂 CC-BY
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And in that afterward conversation Ken was in we acknowledged the radiation of positive energy we felt from you, Laura. It was beyond palpable.
What you describe has been one of my primary goals since the mid 1990s of meeting people in person whom I have gotten first to know online. It fueled my 15,000 mile trip around the US and Canada in 2011. It’s like sharing tacos and music at of a historic mission in Tucson 😉
I’ve hung on to this description back in 2007 by Clive Thompson of “proprioception” https://www.wired.com/2007/06/st-thompson-4/ though it need not be limited to twitter.
It’s the warmth of being invited to the homes and family of people like Ken (twice). When you are in someone’s home, among the people and things important, when you get to know their partners, kids, pets, when you see them in the morning with less than perfect hair… well, it all comes back and amplifies the meaning of the online connection. It anchors all future exchanges in shared memory.
Anytime I get to travel I always seek to find time to visit people I know in the area… so you know what it means if I can swing that trip this summer to Bath…
Oh I sincerely hope that trip happens! The things we’ll play… whether you get to come here (to my home- and I really hope so!) or whether I go to where you are, I know how to fit both cellos and guitars in the car. ‘have music, will travel’ For me too, it’s all about people. and tacos. I have not yet had a taco that surpassed that one cooked by the lady out of the oil drum on that scorching day we had lunch and played music together. Shared memory is the best.
Wonderful Laura, I was so happy and excited to see you on that virtually connecting session although you could not see me there (I was hiding in the Open. Nod to Maha Bali). I was able to join in the aftershow which was also great in allowing me to hang out with some old friends and meet some new ones.
I really try to get this idea of presence online and how that is important to my students and colleagues. You say it so well here. I invited my students to come look and hope they will.
Thank you Ken! They would be most welcome to read it and comment – I’d love to hear about if/how this is true for others, and in varied situations. I saw you were there later, when I went back to watch the rest of the video from after we signed off – what an amazing group of people on the virtual side! VConnecting has done some very wonderful things 🙂