Things I Know 263 of 365: Citizenship is both digital and analog

There can be no daily democracy without daily citizenship.

– Ralph Nader

The son of one of the dean’s here at school was missing this week. Last night, he returned home, and everyone is safe.

After a friend e-mailed me the flier being circulated in conjunction with the search, I posted it to my Facebook page. I also posted it to the Facebook group for students at HGSE.

When I checked Facebook this morning, the post to my general Facebook wall had been shared 14 times in the night.

Each sharer (Is that the proper colloquialism?) was somehow connected to SLA. Former students, students I’d never taught, graduates from our first class, parents of my advisees, students’ friends from other schools – they all shared the post to their walls, though only one of them is near Boston.

It was a reminder of community and one of those infrequent signs that Facebook might be good for something.

I realize none of the people who passed the message along did any serious lifting beyond a couple clicks, but that’s another vote in favor of the virtual network.

The message moved quickly and didn’t require anyone to inconvenience themselves. This was a worry to someone they were connected to and the relative cost for adding their voices was null.

This could have and has had distinctly negative effects. Petitions, rumors and photos go viral in minutes, and attempts to rectify the wrongs take much more work and are largely ineffective.

In this instance, that wasn’t the case. The objective was to spread the word and help someone else. It happened.

Of similar interest was the fact no one in the HGSE group shared the flier to their walls. Ostensibly, they’re the group that had the most investment in the ordeal.

The temptation is to suggest weaker communal ties. I wonder if that’s it. Everyone I’ve met here is quite caring for one another, and I’ve witnessed their support first hand.

The possibility that comes to mind is perhaps the groups – SLA and HGSE – view the agency afforded by Facebook differently.

Without wading into the riptide of the digital native / digital immigrant debate, I wonder if it seems more natural for such an alert to be transmitted virtually for my SLA community while my HGSE community considers it to be a more physically-bound action.  While both are caring and active communities, I could certainly see how the learning environment of SLA would differently shape a person’s paradigm of citizenship and what participatory culture looks like and can look like. It’s possible HGSE citizenship is analog while SLA citizenship blends the analog with the digital.

It seems to me citizenship should be both and the seams should be invisible.

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Things I Know 136 of 365: Forget Facebook; I’m keeping me real

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

– Walt Whitman

Steve Cheney recently posted on Facebook’s effects on personal authenticity. Because Facebook is everywhere, despite check-ins and the like, those on Facebook are essentially nowhere. Not the real people.

I read the article with one of my G11 classes. The responses were mixed.

One student commented he wasn’t worried about Facebook hindering his sense of self, “My Facebook page says I like naked skydiving, Satan worship and smoking crack.” Certainly, this student and the one student in the class who admitted to not having a Facebook page are safe from what Cheney points out as Facebook’s attempt to tie people to one identity across the web.

Another student commented on the trouble of his Facebook status interrupting his real life. In a moment of impulse he posted some misogynistic lyrics to a song he was listening to as his status without citing them.

Moments later, his aunt started commenting and criticizing what he was saying about women. Not long after, his aunt told the student’s mother and she jumped in to the commenting fray. Three-quarters of the way into the story, I yelled, “Oh, yeah!”

The student shot me a questioning look. “I remember watching that happen on my feed,” I explained.

I had, in fact, seen the initial status update. I was ready to comment when I saw his aunt’s reply. From there, I sat back and watched as this student’s teachable moment played out very publicly online.

While the whole thing was no more than a virtual version of eavesdropping as a child is disciplined in a department store, I’m troubled by something else dressed up as innocuous but is potentially more menacing.

Considering the online purchase of a sweatshirt a few weeks ago, I noticed the option to “Like” the sweatshirt at the bottom of the picture along with an encouraging, “Be the first of your friends to like this.”

Facebook was open in none of my browser tabs, but there it was, lurking as I shopped, collecting more and more data on where I’ve been looking around the Internet.

Thing is, if I like that sweatshirt, I’ll send the link to a friend or two with the message, “What do you think?” That’s it.

Facebook wants me to like it in front of 807 of my closest and most tacitly connected friends.

It’s a hoodie.

No one should be subjected to that kind of information about my life.

Not only does Facebook want to spread my business, it wants to use me as a tool of the man. If any of my friends should happen upon this same hoodie in their own browsing, Facebook also wants to use my “Like” as peer pressure to encourage any of those 807 a little closer to buying the shirt as well.

Cheney remains optimistic on the chances of our humanity winning out over the full adoption of Facebook-rooted inauthentic identities:

People yearn to be individuals. They want to be authentic. They have numerous different groups of real-life friends. They stylize conversations. They are emotional and have an innate need to connect on different levels with different people. This is because humans are born with an instinctual desire to understand the broader context of their surroundings and build rapport, a social awareness often called emotional intelligence.

While there are moments my online spaces have allotted me the capabilities to make smaller, stylized connections to various groups, Facebook and its ilk are not the spaces in which to do that. They never were.

If I wouldn’t reveal it to a stranger at a dinner party, it’s not meant for Facebook.

Classy: Using social media to tell stories…real stories

I wrote a while ago about the stories my seniors are writing in our storytelling class. Each randomly drew one of Aristotle’s identified human emotions from a hat and was asked to let that emotion inspire a short story.

A few days later, the students partnered with one another with the goal of getting to know each other’s protagonists.

“What’s the name of one of your characters?” was the starting question. From there, the sky was the limit. They inquired about the characters’ favorite colors, their histories with their parents, what kind of students they were in middle school, their appearances – anything.

As partners questioned, they took notes on the answers. Those notes were handed over to the writers when the interviews were over as reminders of whom they were writing about. The activity proved informative.

“I’ve never really thought about who a character was before a story I was writing.”

“This makes me feel like I know the character, like she’s real.”

That’s the idea.

Then they wrote.

And wrote.

And wrote.

Last week, we read Atlantic Senior Editor Alexis Madrigal’s story outing Chicagoan Dan Singer as the man behind the twitory of @MayorEmanuel.

We discussed the idea that an entirely new genre of literature (or several) was being created in our lifetimes. Story was being transformed.

As it’s a storytelling class guided in part by the essential question, “How does the way we tell stories affect those stories,” it seemed a good idea to try our hands at these new genres.

Enter the project.

Description: Taking the story you wrote based off of one of Aristotle’s identified emotions, plot the timeline of your story, select the tool or tools you’ll want to use and tell your story in real time. Think of it as a mix of 24 and @MayorEmanuel.

I informally launched it Friday as an idea I’d been playing around with. Nothing formal. Just words in a conversation.

Monday, I handed out project descriptions and we started building. Today, we collaborated on the rubric.

Any online tool is fair game – Facebook, tumblr, twitter, youtube, anything.

In traditional arts and letters, we have fiction and nonfiction with the line blurring from time to time.

If everything can be read as a text and if the more traditional texts are moving online, is anything inherently nonfiction?

Some of what they’re writing violates user agreements. I don’t feel badly about that. If Mark Zuckerberg can play in my backyard, I can play in his.

One student has solicited his friends to also build character profiles to improvisationally interact with his protagonist and the events of the narrative. Other students have created public profiles on Facebook for their characters’ public thoughts and anonymous tumblr accounts for those same characters’ private thoughts. Anyone with both links will have the whole story, but either link will provide a different narrative.

Differing from Singer, we built blueprints and timelines for these stories. As I checked them in today, the students explained how they’d begun posting as exposition already.

Thursday I received a friend request on ‘Book from someone named Kwadwo Watcher. A few minutes later, I received the message below.

Another character started following me on twitter. A few students’ characters are following and friending one another with plans for intertextual cross-pollination.

All signs are pointing to the probability that this will be an interesting project.

Things I Know 13 of 365: You get what you pay for

I’ll gladly pay you tomorrow for a hamburger today.

– J. Wellington Wimpy

Ordering pizza a few nights ago, I sound like a non-hilarious version of “Who’s on first?”

“Can you repeat the last four number?” says the lady taking my credit card number.

I say the previous four and start to say the next four when she begins to repeat the orignal four back to me and as we’re talking at the same time, no one hears the other.

“I’m sorry,” says she, “Can you call back? This is a horrible connection.”

I hang up and hit redial.

As it’s ringing through again, I want to get frustrated with the connection.

It’s not the first time I’ve had trouble being understood when calling out.

Then, again, I have no room to complain.

I’m using Google Voice through my Gmail account – two services for which I’ve not paid, but use on a regular basis. Were this the halcyon days of wireless communication, after my pizza was ordered, I could have called customer service to report my dissatisfaction with my calls. I would have spent upward of 45 minutes on hold and been awarded the golden fleece of customer service, an account credit.

And, yes, I realize, I could report these inconveniences to Google, but I’d feel silly.

I felt silly yesterday when I tweeted out dissatisfaction with my inability to track changes in Google Docs. The student whose paper I was grading was a comma splice junky, and inserting a comment to denote where each comma should have been was proving an onerous task.  Fed, up, I released the tweet to the world – another service for which I do not pay.

Others with similar frustrations replied with affirmations of their likemindedness. Someone even suggested I check the “revision history.” This was something I’d considered, but it wasn’t what I was looking for.

“I want track changes,” I wanted to explain, “Just like they have in Microsoft Office.” (I know, bite my tongue.)

Still, though, there was something nice about the days when we bought big, beautiful, bug-ridden software packages. They were brimming with new features we’d uncover by mistake and then spend hours trying to disable.

Then, when that one thing we wanted to do wouldn’t work, we could complain in beautiful, consternated poetry and be justified because we had paid.

I get the argument that we’ve paid for Google. Today, when I logged in and saw someone on Facebook had liked my request for revision history on Google Docs because that tweet was sent by Interwebs magic to my status updates, I was reminded what I’ve paid. What were once the asides that filled my days like mental belly button lint are now pieces of data to fuel the machine and generate pageviews.

Yes, we can have the existential debate of what it means to give over our thoughts to corporations so that they can make money, but that’s not the conversation we’re having now.

I’m talking money. I haven’t spent any of it on Google.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m fine with our agreement. My life is easier because of the free.

So, I’ll continue to keep mum about my frustration with the passing of Delicious which has been an invaluable volunteer link-sitter for the past few years. I’ll ignore the next commercial on Pandora that interrupts the songs piping through the station I’ve been doggedly curating for months now. And, when Hulu asks me which lady I’m most interested in watching test drive a new car while I’m catching up on episodes of Stargate: Universe, I’ll click without protest.

Free, has a costs.

We might not be friends

The Gist:

  • 1,867 people accounts are connected to me through Buzz, ‘Book, chat and Twitter.
  • I don’t know 1,867 people.
  • Even accounting for 40 percent overlap, I don’t know 1,120.2 people.
  • We might not be friends.

The Whole Story:

Between the killing of time at the Denver International Airport and turning on my phone upon landing safely in Philadelphia last night, I inadvertently direct messaged a few hundred people the promise I could help them “get bigger and have sex longer.”

In the three hours I was in the air, 4 people direct messaged and 15 people replied to me on twitter to alert me to the promises I’d made and suggested perhaps I’d been hacked.

I changed my password and tweeted out a clarification.

Then, I went to my sent direct messages to see who I’d accidentally spammed. After 7 pages, I stopped deleting the messages.
That little episode and a conversation I had with Ben got me thinking.

I did the math. All told, I’m connected to 1,867 accounts through buzz, twitter, Facebook, twitter and chat. Allowing for 40 percent overlap, I’m still connected to 1,120.2 people. I don’t know that many people.

I don’t think I would want to know that many people.

The popularity contest of it all is a little ridiculous as well. What do I think is going to happen if I hit 1,000 followers on twitter? I’m not completely certain, but I know it’ll mean I no longer will be shackled by mortal foibles.

I could be wrong.

Chris has 3,970 followers. I mean, he’s a happy guy, but I don’t think he’s reached Nirvana. The White House is followed by 1,709,139 and that job’s not exactly looking like a walk in the park.

The thing is, I talk on a regular basis with 2 people with whom I attended high school and 3 people with whom I attended college. Maybe 20 people make up the cadre to which I turn for professional and personal support. Throw in the accounts of about 5 neophyte family members. That leads me to 30 accounts. Who are the other 1,827 people accounts?

More to the point, am I a better person / teacher for being connected to them?

As reciprocity’s been big in my mind as of late, are they better for being connected to me?

Or, are we just connected because it’s easy?

Remember Facebook?

The Gist:

– Facebook is dying.

– Teachers are helping kill it.

– We need to respect public spaces.

– Content delivery on Facebook is like those people asking me to sign a petition in the park.

The Whole Deal:

Went with Tim Best to the Tech Forum Northeast conference last weekend to take part in a panel discussion of social networking applications in education. It was similar to our panel last year on the topic of wikis and google docs in education.
This year, though, we didn’t bring a slidedeck. In fact, we didn’t bring a single slide. Also, there were no handouts, no links, no wikis – nothing.

We were up after Peggy Sheehy from Ramapo Central School District in NY and Kristine Goldhawk and Cathy Swan from New Canaan, CT. (Here’s their preso.)
When it was our turn up, we diverged sharply from Sheehy, Goldhawk and Swan. In fact, we diverged sharply from the session title, “Social Networking in the Classroom: Tools for Teaching the Facebook Generation.”
Aside from a brief example of how I’d used twitter and adium to work with one of my students back at SLA during some guy‘s keynote address, we didn’t use any of the tools.
Instead, we asked what the room was thinking and what questions they had.
One of the participants mentioned using Facebook for course management. Goldhawk had said some of the teachers in her district were doing it, and this lady wanted to know more.
I answered with something I’d scribbled in my notes whilst listening to the other panelists, “We need to respect Facebook.” Actually, I started with, “Does anyone in here remember something called Myspace? Why hasn’t anyone in here mentioned it?” Someone in the crowd piped up, “Or Friendster?” (Aw, poor Friendster.)
Even if the prognostication of the NYT Magazine is wrong and ‘Book isn’t about to die, we need to respect it.
I say this knowing full well I designed a project last year using Facebook as the vehicle for the whole thing.
I wish I hadn’t.
The office at SLA has a conference room-style table at its heart. Though students are expected to give up their seats to faculty members, you can often find a mix of students and faculty at the table during lunch or before and after school. This is not the norm at most HS. The office is not a commons area in most HS. As a result, a slice of our faculty steer clear of the office and that table during lunch or before and after school.
It’s not that they don’t love our kids, it’s that they need a break from our kids. They need their space. They find it in their classrooms or our hidden faculty room.
As a result, I have less contact with those members of our faculty. Letting everyone in has meant that we’ve forced some of the people I’d most like to see out.
We’re doing this with Facebook when we choose it over creating a class ning or wiki or the like.
If my teachers had started trying to teach me to diagram sentences whilst I was hanging out in my clubhouse when I was a kid, I would have built a new clubhouse.