Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

It’s called social for a reason: on twitter

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You know, a lot of the talk about the negativity of social media tends to sort of dehumanize it. As if there are no people beyond the text you get from the medium. It’s kind of ridiculous. Howard Rheingold, clearly a big fan of twitter, writes in Net Smart that there is research that shows that people used to actually get a dopamine/oxytocin rush when they got new email; it’s now the case for twitter notifications (email has been hacked by work, so not as much fun, right?). I’m not that surprised, actually. I realize how that can be addictive and can fuel the “checking compulsion”, although you’d think notifications sort of remove the need to keep checking… but anyway 🙂 What with timezone differences and all, at least I curb my checking compulsion until people wake up in the US 🙂

I still remember how a horrible, terrible day in my life was made better by a twitter DM and an email. But it’s not the dopamine rush of just “getting” the DM, it was the fact that the DM was telling me that my first HybridPed article was about to be published. And the email? The email was one by a new online friend who knew I was having problems and provided me with a Maya Angelou poem that just made my year (Shyam, I will always remember that).

But I digress. My point is this. Over the past couple of days, I’ve had two really important hour-long phone calls, a hangout, and 2 really cool DM conversations. One Skype call was with a really close friend (whom I’ve known f2f since I was 16) who currently lives in Canada and is going through a health/social crisis; and one phone call with a really close friend (whom I’ve known f2f since we were both 4) who currently lives in Kuwait but is in Egypt for a short time (we couldn’t meet so we talked on the phone).  I also had a spontaneous google hangout with an awesome group of educators (it was my first time hanging out with them – Pete, Andrea and Janine – and the excitement of meeting f2f but not 3D was amazing) – at 2am my time. Yeah, my husband looked at my like I was nuts. I was having a great time. I had my revenge on Pete the next day by having a very long DM conversation with him at 4am his time or so. I’ve been DMing a lot with Alan Levine as well, and I know I’m not the only one enjoying these conversations, because he keeps blogging and referring to them 😉 How cool is that?

Don’t tell me social media drives people apart. It brings people together. They may be a different group of people than before or without social media, but they are people.

They are my old friends whom I cannot meet f2f, and my new friends whom I may or may not ever meet f2f.

Who cares about what I’m saying here? What I’m saying here is that I’m using social media to connect with PEOPLE. It’s the PEOPLE that are causing the dopamine/oxytocin rush. It’s not the PHONE or TWITTER that are making me HAPPY or EXCITED. It’s the PEOPLE I am connecting with, what we’re saying to each other, how we’re affecting each other, that’s making me FEEL things.

When two of my fave social media friends share with me blogposts that link to a particular article all in the space of 1-2 days, I am compelled to read that article. Both Alan Levine and Pete Rorabaugh shared blogposts that link to Clive Thompson’s 2007 article How Twitter Creates a Social Sixth Sense.  It’s really important to note that the article was written all the way back in 2007, especially when you read this part:

So why has Twitter been so misunderstood? Because it’s experiential. Scrolling through random Twitter messages can’t explain the appeal. You have to do it — and, more important, do it with friends.

My first reaction was: friends are for facebook 😉 I use twitter more professionally (but use facebook professionally as well, ever since rhizo14), most of the people I follow and who follow me start out as total strangers, with similar professional interests. I stopped long ago following the news on twitter (probably the best and worst decision I’ve ever made) and I just really follow other educators and usually don’t even look at the twitterstream; instead I look at hashtags. And recently I realized that I DM a lot.

It’s not a complete surprise that both Alan and Pete shared blogposts that link to Clive Thompson’s article above. I’ve been DMing them both a lot, and we’ve been talking about connection, and twitter, and how it makes no sense to other people but makes total sense to people like us.

But wait – what I’m trying to say here is – even though Twitter was very different in 2007, and that quote about friends did not ring true at first for how I use twitter now, I suddenly realized that most of the “strangers” I was following on twitter are now my friends (hehe many also my friends on facebook – another thing you’re missing out on, cogdog). Sure, a lot of what we write is professional stuff related to education. But a recent conversation with Bonnie Stewart quickly moved from professional into really funny banter and it was loads of fun 🙂 I think I cried reading Alan’s last blogpost because he mentioned a friend from Argentina who dreamt of him, and I remembered the night I had a horrible experience around 3am my time, and in my dreams, I was reaching out to Bonnie Stewart who, in my dream, was also going through something, and we supported each other in the dream. I woke up to later find it had been a bad day for her as well, though we had not talked about it. That might be the sixth sense Clive Thompson was talking about. Or not 🙂 I don’t know.

I’m seeing now how this transformation from professional to friendship happened via rhizo14 – it was an intense connection with people via facebook, twitter and blogging, that gave us a chance to get to know each other better as individuals and as a group. I’ve had it happen occasionally in other cMOOCs but never with the intensity of rhizo14 – that’s what I’ve been trying to say for a while: there was something different about rhizo14 for me and maybe some other people. I don’t mean this happened to everyone and that’s fine. But something happened for me that has not happened with the same intensity in any other cMOOC.

But with people like Alan and Pete there was no strong MOOC context (well, there was #tvsz but that’s just 2 days; and there was #ccourses but that hasn’t started yet), it was some shared something that got us talking to each other a lot, and I think DMing (and with other people actually emailing – yes, email still works, you know; or sending facebook messages privately) helps solidify the relationship as one between the pair of us, and not just “any old person on twitter”. If that makes sense?

I think Alan is right about people having some sort of sense of whom they’ll like and want to get to know. Maybe some people have a better sense of it than others (some people I like immediately; others I change my mind about later). I also like Alan’s blog post title about “individual connections” that develop on the other end of “massive”. I haven’t been as lucky in meeting all the people I connect with online, but I still have strong (like 10-year-long) relationships with people I have never met (like my MEd tutor) and have met a few people when traveling (e.g. a friend from the MEd whom I met a couple of times when I was in Sheffield).

I am absolutely dying, dying to go to the #et4online conference next year because I know some of the people who’ll be there inshallah. Fingers crossed it works out (and yeah, fingers crossed makes absolutely no sense in a Muslim context, but if I told you to pray for me, you’d think I was nuts, right?)

[note, this post is so personal I have no idea why I actually blogged it; except I don’t think I could have expressed what I’m thinking/feeling without making it personal – which is the point of the whole blogpost. That it’s about people]

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