Social Media Feast and Fast: Disconnecting for a Day

July 20, 2012

I was feeling wired in the best and worst of all possible ways after feasting on nonstop, extremely intense face-to-face and online contact with colleagues at American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) and American Library Association (ALA) conferences recently.

The cumulative effect was wonderfully alarming—or alarmingly wonderful, depending on your own attitudes toward social media tools. The positive result was that engaging with colleagues face to face and via Twitter backchannels created a remarkably rewarding level of engagement. The worrisome part was that the nonstop engagement created a social media/digital equivalent of delirium tremens in the days immediately following each conference.

Some of the contradictory responses should not, in retrospect, have been difficult to anticipate. I did, after all, move without any sort of conscious transition into dawn-to-dark social media immersion from a routine habit of spending an hour or less each day engaged with others through Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and Facebook; the exception to my usual habits generally comes in the form of a weekly or biweekly engagement in a formal online discussion session, e.g., a tweet chat, or through the act of live-tweeting an event for colleagues who cannot be present.

The conference interactions turned those patterns completely on their virtual heads. Conference days generally began with a quick skim, on the screen of my laptop, of the conference backchannel feeds via TweetDeck; this helped me spot last-minute announcements regarding events I didn’t want to miss, or summaries of presentations and discussions I wasn’t able to attend. Then I would skim a (print) copy of a newspaper before switching over to a mobile device (in this case, a Samsung Galaxy tablet)  to keep up with the various feeds throughout the day. I would turn back to my laptop when I was live-tweeting events I was attending or writing blog postings late each evening.

As I’ve written elsewhere, the level of engagement was spectacular; the combined online and face-to-face contacts produced connections I otherwise would have never made. But the predictable crash was quick to come in the days immediately following each conference. I found myself compulsively continuing to follow the backchannel post-conference feeds via my tablet. Craving and missing the obvious social media buzz that comes from that level of stimulation. And feeling as if the transition from conference routines back to normal day-to-day routines was not happening as naturally as it had in the past.

When I found myself feeling that way after returning from the second conference, I began thinking about University of San Francisco associate professor of media studies and environmental studies David Silver’s recent summary of a digital fast experiment. Silver’s engaging presentation at the San Francisco Public Library under the auspices of BayNet (the Bay Area Library & Information Network) in May 2012 made many of us think about our own online practices as he described how he had encouraged a group of 80 digital natives to go without any electronic or digital media as long as they could—in essence, to “remain logged off until it becomes dangerous, impossible, or unbearable.”

The student who maintained the fast for the shortest period of time gave up after only a few hours. The person who lasted longest went all of three and a half days. Some of the participants’ observations were funny—one wanted to know how to take a bus without an iPhone and then what to do while on the bus with no digital distractions. Another concluded that it was impossible to work out at a gym without music. A third participant reported staring at a pizza for lack of anything else to do over a meal. Some participants’ observations were poignant—their friends who continued texting acted as if they had stepped out of the room by not being equally engaged in online conversations, and one reported that it was “weird to be stuck in my mind…I didn’t like it.”

Armed with memories of those observations and recognizing that I needed my own digital fast, I set aside a Saturday recently when no one was expecting me to work. I could actually feel my body and my thoughts relaxing as I opened the pages of a book that morning and slowly relished the joy of slowly absorbing thoughts from printed sources rather than feeling as if I had to race from tweet to tweet. Brunch with my wife was a relaxing and invigorating combination of conversation and time spent skimming that day’s edition of The New York Times—in its printed format. A walk through parts of San Francisco that afternoon gave us time to talk as well as simply take things in, and dinner in the relative silence of our home—no television, CD player, or radio providing distractions—led to a quiet evening without interruptions.

Beginning the fast with the intention of letting it run from midnight to midnight, I actually was in no rush to check for messages the following (Sunday) morning, so the fast actually continued well into the afternoon. By the time I wandered back to briefly check for phone messages—nothing pressing there—and online contacts, I realized I had accomplished what I set out to do. Set the virtual world aside for an all-too brief retreat. Slowed myself down significantly. And managed to break the compulsive need to monitor those post-conference backchannels and other online enticements. So I’m back to normal patterns of online interactions. And apparently none the worse for wear.


Antisocial Networking: Dreading Social Media

May 15, 2012

Facebook helps three out of four libraries recently surveyed announce upcoming programs and new acquisitions, Research and Markets’ newly released report focusing on 62 public, academic, special, and government libraries suggests. And more than half of the libraries surveyed maintain active Twitter accounts. Which still leaves a lot of libraries—and library staff members–not yet seeing the need to use social media tools to meet library users where they are meeting.

If you’re among the several billion people who haven’t yet felt the need to start a Facebook or other social media account, you don’t need to let others push you into the social media pool; you’ll dive into those waters when you’re ready—and not a moment sooner. And if the very thought of using Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter, or other social media services fills you with dread, please understand that you’re not alone. We’ve all been there. And some of us have overcome the dread and discovered that there are ways to use these services with the help of trusted colleagues. The moment of transition arrives when we realize we can dive into social media without it completing drowning us.

We’re constantly bombarded with admonitions and expressions of disbelief if we tell someone immersed in social media that we just don’t feel the need to join them in those venues. It’s as if, by refusing to join them on Facebook and those other sites, we have placed ourselves into an aberrational class of anti-social networking malcontents who somehow have decided to gleefully rip holes in the fabric of the social media universe. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. For some, it just takes more time to reach the moment of need—that moment when we see more value in being part of the online social networking universe than we see in remaining aloof from what initially appears to be a frivolous, unproductive use of our time.

What the social media mavens often ignore is that many people simply haven’t recognized how involvement in social media networks can actually strengthen rather than detract from the sense that we are part of vibrant, creative, and inspiring social communities that increasingly combine, in a seamless way, our onsite and online professional and personal activities. They haven’t seen the value of joining thoughtfully inspiring online conversations they don’t even know are taking place.

Those of us who gone from dread to enthusiasm now barely notice the tools; we focus on a newfound and effective method of communication and the cultivation of resources that enrich every facet of our lives. We realize that whether we are on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, or Twitter is far less important than how we incorporate those tools into our lives—and how we work to keep them in the role of tools rather than turning them into driving forces that keep us from accomplishing other, more important things. We quickly learn to sift through the online ephemera and go for the gold—those updates providing links to a valuable and much-appreciated resource that we would not have found by ourselves. And when that happens, we’re in the game. Completely. With full enjoyment. And with gratitude that we didn’t have to waste time seeking out that resource on our own.

All of which provides a great reminder to those of us who have made the personal and professional journey from dread and anti-social networking to developing a great appreciation for how those tools have drawn us into valuable and highly valued communities. We are not going to entice others into that world by telling them they have to join. Furthermore, there’s no reason that we should do so. What we should be doing is using these tools ourselves. Letting others know what has worked for us (and, most importantly, why). And being there to help others take the baby steps they need to take to join us in the shallow or the deep end of the social media pool.

N.B.: Paul is teaching the ALA Editions four-week online “Social Media Basics: Engaging Your Library Users” course from May 21 – June 17, 2012 (http://www.alastore.ala.org/detail.aspx?ID=3812) for those who literally want to start at the beginning by opening Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and Twitter accounts, and then seeing how those accounts can serve their professional and personal needs.

An edited version of this article was written for the ALA Editions blog.


Rethinking Learning and Learning Spaces (Pt. 4 of 4): Rethinking With the Authors We Are Reading

March 23, 2012

Let’s take a quantum leap in rethinking what a learning space is. Without abandoning anything that is already effectively in place, let’s think beyond the physical classroom. Past the online learning spaces we inhabit now via platforms including WebEx, Skype, and many others. Let’s think about a world where learning spaces can be almost anything that facilitates learning. And then laugh when we realize how full circle we have come.

At least one idea comes sharply into focus as we move through the rethinking process via books by John Medina, Seth Godin, Cathy Davidson, and others, including Bruce Wexler: the “places” where we learn are in a dynamic state of change, and they all benefit from being stimulating rather than static. When we look at what Michael Wesch is doing at Kansas State University and documenting on his Digital Ethnography site, we see engaged and effective learning facilitated by an engaged teacher-trainer-learner. When we turn to the YouMedia project at the Chicago Public Library, we see a learning organization blending online-onsite learning in incredibly innovative ways. When we see how colleagues are using LinkedIn discussion groups, live online conversations linked together via Twitter hashtags like #ASTDChapters or #lrnchat or #libchat, or through Google+ hangouts, we see our idea of learning spaces expand even further since each of them creates a sort of space where learning can and does occur.

When we consider how effectively wikis are being used to draw teacher-trainer-learners together asynchronously to actually produce learning objects like the annual New Media Consortium Horizon Report, we can see those wikis as learning spaces. When we see how individual blog postings on topics ranging from various learning styles to learning in libraries include extensive links and references and serve as self-contained online asynchronous lessons, we have further expanded our horizons. When we use smartphones and tablets as conduits to sites such as Smarthistory while we are standing in front of a work of art in a museum, we viscerally understand that the learning space is a blend of the museum gallery and the website and the device since they combine to provide a more comprehensive learning opportunity than would be possible without that combination. And it’s just one small additional step to move ourselves to the concept of blended learning spaces along the lines of the onsite-online social learning centers a few of us are promoting, or to see the newly created TED-Ed site as a dynamically innovative learning space.

But there’s still one obvious oversight, and it comes to our attention as we rethink what knowledge is through books like David Weinberger’s Too Big to Know, which examines our move from print-based knowledge to online knowledge. Or Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows, which suggests that using the Internet is rewiring our brains in ways that make it difficult for us to read book-length works. Or William Crossman’s VIVO [Voice In/Voice Out]: The Coming Age of Talking Computers, which is predicated on the author’s belief that text and written language will be obsolete by 2050. The oversight for many of us may be in not seeing that books themselves (in print as well as online) remain a form of learning space—a place where we encounter other trainer-teacher-learners, learn from them, react to the ideas being proffered, and even, at a certain level, engage with them through our reactions to their work and through the conversations they inspire. Which makes it tremendously ironic, as I have repeatedly noted, that these wonderful thinker-writers still are drawn to express themselves most eloquently within the very containers—the books—they think are being replaced by other options.

If we were to travel down a similar path of overlooking what so clearly remains before us, we, too, might look at all that is developing and lose sight of a valuable learning space: the physical learning spaces that have served us in the past and will continue to serve us well if we adapt them and expand them—and ourselves—to reflect and respond to our changing world as well as to our learning needs. And our desires.


Libraries, Training, and Continuing Education

March 19, 2012

Those who still equate libraries with nothing more than printed books—and experience tells me there are plenty of training-teaching-learning colleagues who fall into that category—need to step outside their caves and see what is happening within their onsite-online libraries.

Laura Townsend Kane’s Working in the Virtual Stacks: The New Library & Information Science is just the place to start. Written primarily for those considering a career in libraries and those considering a mid-career change, this book by the assistant director for information services at the University of South Carolina’s School of Medicine Library in Columbia, South Carolina features interviews with more than 30 library insiders’ views of where their industry is going, and it should be of interest to a much wider audience. Whether you are among those who are increasingly using library services and are curious how they work, are already a library insider, or are considering a career in libraries, Kane has something for you.

Working in the Virtual Stacks introduces us to librarians as subject specialists; technology gurus and social networkers; teachers and community liaisons; entrepreneurs; and administrators in the five sections of her book. Even better for those of us involved with libraries as well as with training-teaching-learning within and outside of library land, we find numerous examples of library staff members as lifelong learners and facilitators of learning within the communities they serve—a confirmation of the key teaching-training role Lori Reed and I documented for members of library staff in our own book, Library Learning & Leadership.

We can’t go more than a few pages in this insiders’ view without coming across references to library staff members’ dedication to learning —their own as well as that of the library users they serve onsite and online. There are also numerous examples of library staff members promoting the use of online social media tools not only to complete the work they do but also to reach those in need of their services—just as many of us do in workplace learning and performance (staff training) endeavors outside of libraries. We’ll find library staff members using Facebook, LinkedIn, Skype, Twitter, YouTube, and a variety of other tools that have become every bit as important to library services as the books we’ve come to expect from our libraries in the various formats we seek—including eBooks.

There are library colleagues telling us that we “must also keep up with the field of futurism and trend watching,” as Steven J. Bell, associate university librarian for research and instructional services at Temple University does in the final interview in the book. Or reminding us that blogs, wikis, and instant message services all have roles to play in our training-teaching-learning endeavors, as Meredith Farkas, head of instructional services at the Portland State University Library in Oregon, does. Or how important it is to take every tech-based class available and stay active in social networking, as San Rafael Public Library Acting Director Sarah Houghton says. And how “if we become trend-spotters, we have a good chance of creating the ‘next big thing’” (p. 95), as San Jose State University assistant professor Michael Stephens maintains.

Most importantly of all, there is Kane herself confirming that “the days of sitting for hours at the reference desk, waiting for patrons to approach with questions, are long gone….librarians are expected to keep up with changing technologies” (p. 3)—just like the rest of us. And the best of them are there to help us through the transition in which we are still so deeply immersed in our careers as trainer-teacher-learners.


Remembering Terrence Wing

December 4, 2011

The unexpected passing of ASTD (the American Society for Training & Development) colleague Terrence Wing—President-Elect of the ASTD Los Angeles Chapter—has left another void in the ASTD family. (And make no mistake about it: being actively involved in ASTD at the local, regional, and/or national level does make all of us members of an unbelievably wonderful family that shares the joy of our successes as well as the profound levels of mourning that accompany the loss of any member of that family.)

To understand what it means to many of us that Terrence succumbed to a heart attack last week, you just have to hear a little about all that he was doing or about to do. He was on ASTD’s TechKnowledge12 Program Advisory Committee (PAC), which substantially shapes the face of this influential learning conference. He was in touch with the editor of the eLearning Guild’s Learning Solutions Magazine to discuss the content of his next column. He was continuing to write engagingly, concisely, and inspirationally for the Liquid Learn blog at the cutting-edge learning company he founded and helped to run (far too infrequently Terrence, far too infrequently; I’d give a lot of have more of your thoughts archived online at this point). He was a month away from beginning his year-long term as president of the ASTD Los Angeles Chapter. He was actively exploring Google+ with many of us and providing glimpses of those wonderful ephemeral moments of life that so often pass unnoticed.

And, knowing how Terrence operated, I suspect he was probably in the middle of planning or bringing dozens of other activities to fruition in ways that would have made a positive difference in the face of workplace learning and performance across the country and in other parts of the world.

One of the most stunningly positive aspects of Terrence’s presence is how quickly he became a part of so many lives—including mine. After mentioning a wonderful article Terrence had written about Twitter as a learning tool, I was delighted to see a comment he posted March 1, 2011, in response to the article I wrote about Skype as a learning tool in the same publication. A few email exchanges quickly made us aware of our ASTD connections as well as our overlapping circles of colleagues via LinkedIn and Twitter, and I was gratified that he participated, as an online audience member, in a session (“Blend Me”) a few of us did for the Sacramento ASTD Chapter in May. (He joined us via Twitter during a segment dealing with Twitter in workplace learning and performance.)

When I heard, from colleagues, that he was at ASTD’s International Conference & Exposition in Orlando in May, I mentioned how much I would love to extend our online connections to a face-to-face chat. Terrence graciously went out of his way to stop by an informal dinner several of us were having, and he extended an invitation to join him later that evening for a chance to talk at greater length, over drinks, about what we were all doing (which, in retrospect, I’m even more glad that I accepted even though it led to a very late night after an exhausting day of commitments). Through his presence, he stimulated plenty of wonderful conversation. Through his absence, he evokes memories of those exchanges that make me realize even more poignantly what we have suddenly lost—as documented by the comments being posted on an ASTD Los Angeles Chapter site.

Many of us know a lot of people; Terrence was one of those rare gems who knew how to bring people together in a way that changes lives. I suspect the greatest tribute we can pay him is to try to be the sort of person he appeared to be. Creative. Witty. Curious. A listener. A catalyst. And a cherished colleague whose voice will be impossible to replace.


ALA Annual Conference 2011: Learning With and From Our Colleagues

June 24, 2011

For those of us whose attendance at conferences is an essential part of our teaching-training-learning, there is an unofficial game that keeps us coming back for more: the game of wondering how quickly we will first run into someone we know.

I have yet to top the time I boarded a shuttle for the ride from my home to San Francisco’s airport and, five minutes later, discovered that the next stop was at a colleague’s home. Which was almost as good as the time that another colleague was on the same flight out of San Francisco even though we were leaving a couple of days before that conference was scheduled to begin. And it began this time when another cherished colleague and I, on our way to the American Library Association’s 2011 Annual Conference here in New Orleans, spotted each other on our way to a connecting flight that had us both in the Dallas-Fort Worth airport and had nearly an hour to catch up on what we had been doing since our last encounter.

The extended game of Catching Up With Colleagues continued yesterday—the day before preconference activities were even underway. After conducting an orientation session for conference volunteers, I saw Peggy Barber, one of my favorite marketing colleagues, not far from the main conference registration desk. Because neither of us had any appointments scheduled—a rare occurrence at events where so much is offered in a relatively brief period of time—she and I were able to have a two-hour lunch that carried us far beyond our usual and all-too-infrequent hello-goodbye exchanges. There’s a level of magic that accompanies each of these unexpected encounters and reminds us why we go to all the expense and inconvenience of traveling all the way across the country. It’s what Frans Johansson describes so lovingly in The Medici Effect: when those of us who do not frequently see each other face to face have those concentrated bursts of face-to-face time, the exchange of information and ideas is as intense and rewarding as any well-run day-long workshop—and often far more productive. From her side of the table, there were thoughtful and thought-provoking observations about how many of us confuse advocacy with marketing and end up ineffectively promoting issues rather than taking to the time to listen long enough to determine what our clients and customers need from us. From my side, there were plenty of stories about what all of us are doing to promote effective learning opportunities in a variety of settings.

And our options for making those wonderful connections seem to be increasing at such a rapid rate that it’s hard to keep up with all that comes our way. But not impossible.

Even though I don’t have a smartphone and therefore am not constantly Big-C Connected at all times, I’ve learned enough from colleagues to check in for conference updates via Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social media tools that can serve rather than enslave us if we use them effectively—at our moment of need. I also have learned to arrive onsite before activities are underway so I can see where the essential points of contact are: shuttle stops; information booths; meeting rooms; food courts; the onsite Internet cafés that mean we can leave our laptops behind; and those onsite lounge areas where tired colleagues tend to congregate and talk when they find themselves beyond the capacity to absorb even one more word from all the first-rate presenters we came to hear.

Much of it is serendipitous, and some of us comes from planning. After leaving my lunch-time colleague yesterday, I spent some time alone to absorb a little of what had already come my way. Then joined a small group of workplace learning and performance colleagues from libraries
all over the country.
And once again, the magic was a product of the meeting: our conversations went far beyond the routines of our day-to-day work. We meandered through conversations about our more personal pursuits. Talking about the loss of colleagues, friends, and family members who have left us since the last time all of us gathered. The changes and innovations occurring on a daily basis in workplace learning and performance. Our own creative pursuits.

And as Johansson suggests, the rewards are immediate. Visceral. And moving. As I confirmed for myself this morning when I woke up at 5 am and had to move more words from mind to paper so I wouldn’t lose all that our gatherings inspired.


Hidden Garden Steps: When Social Networking Supports an Onsite-Online Community

March 20, 2011

Creating a community-based, volunteer-managed, neighborhood beautification project while strengthening the sense of community in San Francisco’s Inner Sunset District took an interesting turn a few days ago: one of our volunteer supporters for the Hidden Garden Steps project went online with a charming—and obviously effective—fundraising effort to help move the $300,000 project forward.

The initiative by the volunteer—Sherry Boschert, who lives with her partner near the Steps—is not only engagingly straightforward. It is also very much in the spirit of the Hidden Garden Steps effort, which relies on a loosely structured organizing committee coordinating a San Francisco Parks Trust project to bring existing neighborhood individuals, groups, and business owners together in a collaborative effort to complete the project on 16th Avenue, between Kirkham and Lawton streets.

Boschert did her research by talking with the project artists (Aileen Barr and Colette Crutcher) at a recent fundraising and marketing event hosted by Crepevine owner Majed Fakouri. She also, at the same event, met with organizing committee member Licia Wells for a quick brainstorming session about various aspects of her idea to bring members of the Inner Sunset GLBT community together to raise $5,000 to support the creation and installation of the Diablo Fairly Lantern tile element of the Steps project. Then Boschert, a writer and activist who has lived in the neighborhood for two decades, used the Kickstarter online fundraising platform to post the video she created.

Within 24 hours, the posting had already attracted three donors who contributed more than 10 percent of the $5,000 goal for that one piece of the overall Hidden Garden Steps effort. And she has already offered to show others how to engage in similar efforts on behalf of the Steps.

There is plenty to admire and to learn from here, and it reminds us of the importance of combining face-to-face and online efforts seamlessly. Boschert became interested in the Hidden Garden Steps project as a result of organizing committee members’ efforts to collected collect signatures on petitions in early 2010. She remained interested as organizing committee members held monthly meetings to create an effective project infrastructure throughout 2010; created local interest through flyers posted throughout the neighborhood and through rudimentary Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter accounts; began formal fundraising efforts in early 2011; and began scheduling public events in volunteers’ homes, at Crepevine, and other settings.

The result of the organizing committee’s efforts, so far, has been a flow of more than $20,000 in donations not only from San Franciscans but also from San Franciscans’ friends, relatives, and colleagues in other parts of the United States.

Boschert, on her Kickstarter page and in the video, creates the sense of warmth, engagement, and fun that is at the heart of the entire project: “This Kickstarter project is raising funds specifically to sponsor one element in the design—the Diablo Fairy Lantern flower—and to recognize the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) residents of the Sunset District who live near both sets of steps.

“Why GLBTs? The Sunset has a reputation for being one of the city’s most conservative, straight districts, but GLBT people have always lived here too. We want to give back to the community by supporting this gorgeous project, and we will place one tile near the Diablo Fairy Lantern with the name of our social group, Out in the Fog.

“Why the Fairy Lantern? (I don’t really have to explain that, do I?) Because it’s beautiful. Here’s what the Fairy Lantern looks like in the design, and here’s what it looks like in real life. Like I said — gorgeous.”

And as we move forward with our efforts to bring the entire project to fruition, it’s worth the time it takes to acknowledge something else equally gorgeous: the spirit of community that inspires people like Boschert to carve time out of their very busy schedules to engage in positive actions. And make us smile.

N.B.: This is the second in an ongoing series to document the Hidden Garden Steps project in San Francisco. Next: Local Libraries’ Involvement in the Hidden Garden Steps Project.


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