Social Learning Centers and the Intersection at 39,000 Feet

September 18, 2012

I’m sitting next to Rob, someone I met a couple of hours ago at the beginning of an American Airlines flight from San Francisco to Dallas-Fort Worth Airport this afternoon. We’ve been talking about the work he does on data protection and retention and the training-teaching-learning work I do in helping people learn to creatively incorporate technology into their workplaces. And we’re having an extended Intersection moment—the Intersection being that phenomenon described by Frans Johansson in his book The Medici Effect, about how when people from different backgrounds briefly come together and share ideas, they walk away with more than they ever would have developed on their own.

Our meandering conversation is punctuated by periods of silence during which we return to reading material we brought with us on the flight—he on his Kindle, me within the pages of printed books and magazines. And each time we resume our conversation, we learn something new. Rob, for example, learns a bit about social learning as well as about how different contemporary libraries are from those he used to frequent. And I, a moment ago, learned about BookShout!, which Rob pointed out to me after finding it described in the inflight magazine he is continuing to browse.

BookShout!, it turns out, is a new social media offering for readers interested in sharing comments online as they read books together. Having been introduced to the marketplace earlier this year by Founder and CEO Jason Illian, VP of Technology Rick Chatham, and VP of Creative and User Experience Josh Stone, according to the inflight magazine article (American Way, September 15, 2012), the service is already accessible through its website and an Apple app for iPhones and iPads; an Android version is scheduled to come out in October 2012.

Users of BookShout!, Illian notes in an online interview, can have their online discussions in groups as small or as large as they want them to be. First-time visitors to BookShout!’s Google+ site or company website will quickly spot the service’s roots in promoting discussions of Christian literature, but a bit of exploration shows that this is a site with aspirations to provide discussions about books from a wide and wonderfully diverse range of subjects.

And that’s what makes Rob point the article out to me.

“I bet this could be useful in online learning,” he observes, already having gathered from our conversation how immersed I am in creative approaches to training-teaching-learning.

“It’s as if we have our own temporary social learning center right here on this plane,” I blurt out as I realize what is happening.

For in the space of less than two hours, we have met, talked, found enough common ground to have more than a passing grasp of each other’s interests, and we’re already sharing information with each other in the midst of the Intersection.

Whether our social learning center will continue online via LinkedIn or some other social media tool after we land at the airport and part ways remains to be seen. But the learning that occurred, in true Intersection fashion, is already on its way to being disseminated. Through presentations a colleague and I are doing two days from now on social learning centers. And through this article you are reading. Welcome to the Intersection and a budding social learning center. Let’s see where this can take us.


Social Media Basics: Hackers, Heartbreak, and the Need for Digital Literacy

August 17, 2012

Those of us who use social media tools know that we will eventually have our accounts hacked/hijacked; I see examples of it on a nearly daily basis. That doesn’t mean we have to sink into despair and assume that resistance is futile, but it does mean that we need to take as many precautions as we can to avoid the account-hijackers and have solid backup and recovery plans in place, as I was reminded again a few times this week.

The wake-up call, for me, came when I checked my Twitter account one morning and discovered that spammy direct messages neither of us wrote were going out to many of my followers and a colleague’s followers. Because the hijacker spreading the virus that provided access to our accounts was more annoying than destructive, we were able to quickly re-establish control over our accounts by changing our passwords, but we both recognized that it could have been worse. Much worse. As was made heartachingly clear through compelling, thorough, and chilling descriptions (“How Apple and Amazon Security Flaws Led to My Epic Hacking” and “How I Resurrected My Digital Life After an Epic Hacking” ) by Wired senior writer Mat Honan about how hackers not only took over his accounts, but also came close to permanently destroying a variety of deeply and uniquely personal files and photographs.

It’s well worth comparing what happened to my colleague and to me with what happened to Honan since we can walk away with not only with extremely useful information but also with a big-picture view of where we need to be going in a world where a relatively small number of incredibly irresponsible people with an alarming lack of social empathy are taking us.

In the situation I faced, the hijacker caught me in a moment of weakness via a scam that has been floating around for at least a year. The tweet that caused the breech arrived at a moment when I had just been involved in a video promoting a lovely project; that tweet came from a close colleague, contained the question “What are you doing in this viddeoo?”, and included a link back to the alleged video. Wanting to be sure she was referring to the video I had helped produce, I clicked on the link, waited for the video to load, and when it didn’t load, sent her a message to confirm that she was referring to the video I had done. Only later did I realize that the reason the video didn’t load was that the act of clicking on the link opened my account to the hijacker/spammer.

Two reminders of what I should and normally would have done upon receiving a questionable message: wondered why a meticulous colleague would have so terribly misspelled the word “video,” and written to her before, not after, clicking on the link

Even better—and a practice a usually follow—would have been to have deleted the initial questionable note that allegedly was from her, contacted her to thank her for the comment (which would have triggered a response alerting both of us that her account had been hijacked and used to send that “viddeoo” message/virus to me); and done a quick online search that would have turned up information about the “viddeoo” scam.

Instead, I spent much of the next day thanking colleagues who cared enough to let me know that my account was generating similarly spammy messages about viddeoos, being grateful that they cared enough to alert me in case I hadn’t been aware of the problem, and rhetorically asking myself what it would take for me to be able once again to balance caution with paranoia in dealing with any message that was in the slightest way out of the ordinary and, therefore, potentially posed a threat to my social media presence.

Which takes us to Mat Honan’s story. As is clear to anyone who reads the Wired articles—and I would highly recommend them to everyone for reasons I’m about to make abundantly clear—Honan does us a tremendous favor by showing how, in the space of a few minutes, he went from being a highly visible and well-respected user of social media to someone whose online and personal life was devastatingly compromised. His iPhone, iPad, MacBook were wiped clean, meaning unique content he had not backed up appeared to be completely irrecoverable. Access to a variety of online resources (banking and file storage, among other things) was tremendously compromised. And, as he explains in a compelling follow-up video interview—also now high on my list of required resources in the digital age—he experienced the sort of emotional toll that an attack like this takes upon any of us.

And here’s where the story takes an even more deeply important turn: once he started openly discussing what had happened to him, one of the perpetrators of the digital attack—a nineteen year old male—contacted Honan and eventually quite openly answered a series of questions that not only established how he and at least one partner (who also contacted Honan) had managed to cause the writer so much grief, but made it abundantly clear how emotionally removed he was from the pain his actions caused. Which goes a long way in answering what had previously appeared to be a maddeningly baffling question for many of us: what are these people thinking? (Let’s let Honan provide that answer, via his articles, rather than trying to poorly capture the disturbing lack of social accountability and connectedness the story provides.)

As I look back on what my colleague and I (and many others) have experienced and think about the intentional harm hackers/hijackers cause, I’m haunted by the pain that clearly shows on Honan’s face in the video interview and the emotional impact the words in his article carry. It makes me think about a theme I consistently see in in tech, training, and educational circles—the need for digital literacy. And it makes me think that digital literacy is not just about knowing how to effectively use digital resources, but also how to responsibly use them. It shocks me that we might literally have to confront people with visceral displays like Honan’s to make them understand what their actions cause—which is what happened with Honan’s 19-year-old hacker once Honan explained the personal losses the hacker had caused. But then again, we all seem to have an incredible ability to at some level distance ourselves from the pain of others until confronted with first-hand experience of that pain, so it appears that our training-teaching-learning efforts needs to start early. Be reinforced regularly. And be vigilantly pursued if we want to limit the possibility of more hacker/hijackers unthinkingly hurting members of the greater extended community of which they—and we—are members.


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.


ASTD International Conference 2012: Cliff Atkinson, the Backchannel, and Many Happy Returns

May 18, 2012

I already had quite a few friends and colleagues in the world of training-teaching-learning a couple of weeks ago. Now the social fabric that sustains me has grown quite substantially. Let’s credit the backchannel for this change. Then think about what that backchannel could mean to you and all you serve.

Seeing dynamically interactive online extensions of the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) 2012 International Conference & Exposition Twitter backchannel in the week since the conference ended provides all of us with yet another example of how blended the world has become for trainer-teacher-learners. How quickly we are informally and quite naturally developing the sort of blended onsite-online social learning center/fourth places colleagues and I have been exploring. And how the interactions we have at conferences no longer start and end with physical onsite arrivals and departure.

As is the case with any form of effective training-teaching-learning, those conference interactions flourish through planning before the learning event/conference begins (someone has to create the Twitter hashtag that draws us all together); active participation during the event (the more you give, the more you receive); and sustainable long-term attention that continues far beyond the days a learning opportunity/conference brings us all together (following and contributing to the backchannel after the conference ends keeps this virtual social learning center alive and vibrant).

And discovering Cliff Atkinson’s The Backchannel: How Audiences Are Using Twitter and Social Media and Changing Presentations Forever as I was beginning to resurface a bit from the ASTD conference backchannel (#ASTD2012) a few days ago tells me that the best is yet to come in terms of where backchannels deliver on the promises they are offering.

An effective backchannel, as I wrote in an earlier article, works at many levels. It connects those who might otherwise be separated by the smallest as well as the largest of physical distances. It fosters a form of  mobile learning (m-learning) in that what we’re learning is disseminated to an even larger group of learners. It is increasingly providing a delightfully accessible tool that can as easily facilitate and augment the learning process in academic settings as it can in workplace learning and performance (staff training) endeavors.

On the other hand, it carries the potential to completely disrupt a presenter-teacher-trainer’s presentation. This is where Atkinson’s book on the backchannel comes into play invaluably. A guide every bit as appealing and potentially influential in the world of backchannel learning as his Beyond Bullet Points remains for onsite-online presentations, The Backchannel entices us into the subject immediately through a chapter carrying the title “Why Are You Calling Me a #@*% on Twitter?” and helps us see how a tweeter with a large following (nearly 15,000 people as I’m writing this) and a well-known presenter clashed quite publicly when the presenter saw the tweeter’s note with her derogatory remark about him. (For the record, she called him “a total dick,” and he decided to confront her face-to-face, while the presentation was still underway, by asking “What…what is my dickiness?”)

If you already sense that Atkinson’s mastery of storytelling and training is a wonderful talent to see in action, you’re well on the way to understanding that his book has something for each of us regardless of whether we’re new to the backchannel or already fairly comfortable in that rapidly-flowing stream of words and thoughts and resources. He shows us how to join a backchannel. Entertainingly reviews the rewards and risks of backchannel engagement with copious amounts of screenshots to lead us down that path. Offers presentation tips to make us more effective in our use of Twitter and its backchannels. And leads us through the process of effectively dealing with those dreaded-yet-inevitable moments when a backchannel becomes dangerous.

By the time we finish racing through this book and absorbing what we can—I suspect I’ll be rereading this one at least a few times— we’re far more comfortable with and appreciative of all that backchannels offer, and much more aware of how to be effective and civil members of the Twitterverse and its various interconnected streams. We’re richer for having explored and reflected upon the online resources supporting the book, e.g., his “Negotiating a Backchannel Agreement.” And we’re appreciative for what our own levels of involvement in backchannels returns to us.

Through the #ASTD2012 backchannel and subsequent online interactions including the #lrnchat session on May 17, 2012 , I came away from a conference with 9,000 attendees much richer at a deeply personal and professional level than I was two weeks ago. Through their confrontation and subsequent discussion, the tweeter and the presenter in Atkinson’s book walked away with their differences resolved. And you—yes, you—may end up finding your own rewards and satisfactions there the moment you are prepared to take the plunge into the backchannel/The Backchannel.


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.


Social Learning Centers: When Fourth Place Is a Winner

March 23, 2011

The creation of social learning centers as the important fourth place in our lives took another wonderful leap forward today with a successful attempt to create a blended—onsite/online—fourth place extending from Washington DC to San Francisco.

It wasn’t flawless. And it wasn’t always pretty. But, as colleague and co-presenter Maurice Coleman noted to appreciative laughter from participants, we learn as much from failure as we learn from our successes.

For those of you who feel as if you just walked into the second act of a play in progress, let’s take one step back before making the obvious leaps forward: Ray Oldenburg, more than two decades ago, used his book The Great Good Place to define the three important places in our lives. In that pre-World Wide Web period, those places were physical (onsite) sites: home as the first place, work as the second place, and our treasured community meeting places playing the role of the third place—the great good place.

The idea for a fourth place—the community gathering place for social learning—sprouted from a rapidly planted seed in August 2010 during an episode of Maurice’s biweekly T is for Training podcast. By the end of that T is for Training conversation, we had decided that a perfect place to spread the idea was the annual Computers in Libraries conference—which we finally were able to do today.

Our experiment onsite in Washington DC was far from perfect. But by the end of the 45-minute session that Maurice, T is for Training colleague Jill Hurst-Wahl, and I designed, we had in many ways exceeded our goal, for we not only described the fourth place, we created an onsite-online fourth place that, with any luck, will continue to exist and expand. (Jill’s summary of the session is included on her Digitization 101 blog in a posting dated March 24, 2011.)

Maurice and Jill were onsite; I planned to deliver my portion of the presentation, via Skype, from San Francisco. We talked about how libraries as social learning spaces could be developed in existing library buildings or online. Or in outdoor settings (gardens, if gardening was the object of a learning lesson). Or even in refurbished shipping containers if an organization wanted to combine recycling with learning. We also talked about the various ways learning is delivered online these days: through formal well-planed courses and webinars as well as informally through chat, through Twitter, and through Skype.

The denouement was to be the moment when we called attention to how Skype and Twitter were being used live, during the presentation, to draw our online colleagues into the onsite learning venue at the conference. And it almost worked out that way—except that the Skype section was far diminished by an unexpectedly bad Internet connection at the conference site.

And that, surprisingly enough, was when all the planning and creativity that went into the presentation paid off, for when we realized that the Skype section wasn’t going to work, Maurice used his copy of the slides and script I had prepared and he delivered the live portion of my presentation. And while Jill was moving forward with her part of the session, I turned to the conference Twitter feed to see if anyone was actually tweeting what was happening. Which, of course, someone was. So by using Twitter to reach that audience member, I was able to determine what was happening onsite; Maurice and I established a typed-chat connection via Skype since my audio feed was less than what was acceptable to us; and Maurice used the webcam on his Netbook to allow me to see and hear the two of them in action for the remainder of the session.

The result was that we jury-rigged exactly what we had set out to do through our rehearsals—a learning space that combined onsite and online participants; a combination of live presentation, Skype, and Twitter to allow all of us to engage in a learning session; and a demonstration of how this particular fourth place might continue to exist if any of us decide to come back together via Twitter, Skype, or face to face.

There were signs, even before our time together ended, that we were on our way to having made a difference. One participant wrote, via Twitter, that he is “gonna get an empty shipping container (for free), set it up in Brooklyn Park, & invite community to make it a 4th learning space.”

For more of the conversation, please visit the overall conference Twitter record at #cil11 and look for postings during the second half of the day on March 23, 2011. Tweeters included @librarycourtney, @meerkatdon,  @mgkrause (who posted, from a different session, “This was so basic—wish I had gone to the 4th place talk to hear about tech shops!”),and @jeanjeanniec. Slide and speaker notes from the portions Jill and I prepared are also available online for those who want to explore the idea of social learning centers as fourth place.


ALA 2011 Midwinter Meeting: Trainers, Starfish, and Levels of Engagement in an Onsite-Online World

January 7, 2011

It wasn’t all that long ago that many of us involved in workplace learning and performance saw our face-to-face and online communities as nonintersecting elements of our lives. Face-to-face contact was perceived to somehow be more rewarding, offering deeper, richer relationships than those we had online.

Having dinner last night with a small group of ALA Learning Round Table colleagues who are here in San Diego to attend the 2011 American Library Association (ALA) midwinter meeting reminded me once again how far we’ve come. What became a tradition of gathering a few of us involved in learning opportunities for or within libraries for an evening of dinner and conversation spiced abundantly with an exchange of ideas and resources has, over the past few years, evolved into an opportunity to create and sustain a third place not defined by a physical geographical location—and it really continues to grow through the online contacts we maintain throughout the year.

What in Ray Oldenburg’s concept of The Great Good Place was a world comprised of our home as our first place, work as our second place, and a third place comprised of the treasured community site where we, our friends, and colleagues come and go has, in the age of Web 2.0 and online communities facilitated through social networking tools, come full circle. We now have a third place which can begin either face to face or online, be nurtured through frequent and productive online exchanges—meetings, online chats, regularly scheduled conversations on themes of interest to all participants—and also include those face-to-face encounters in physical settings which change from month to month and year to year depending on where members of the community find themselves crossing paths.

More importantly, the result of this sort of fluid and flexible community which moves back and forth between physical and virtual encounters produces the sort of development and exchange of ideas that Frans Johansson so effectively describes in his The Medici Effect—a tribute to what happens when people of differing backgrounds meet, exchange ideas, and, through their intersection, develop and disseminate new ideas.

Which is exactly what happened again last night. The five of us who were able to extend our continuing long-distance conversations did not arrive with an agenda—that’s neither third place nor Medici Effect thinking. And we did not limit ourselves to discussing what is happening in workplace learning and development or in libraries, although those are the common threads which originally brought us all together. The conversation actually began as many third-place conversations do: with comments about issues that are on our minds, including the anger and frustration we feel that basic social issues such as finding ways to do more than feel bad when we see homeless people sleeping on the streets of the cities which are our homes are not being addressed while members of our national legislature read the American Constitution to each other.

And here’s where our onsite-online third place took an interesting Medici Effect twist: one of our colleagues mentioned that out of her personal frustration came the practice of having a bag of groceries in her car so that when she is running errands and comes across someone in need of food, she has something she can give them.  It seems to be an inadequate response to a huge problem, she suggested, but it serves as a step in the right direction of remaining engaged with members of her own community.  Another colleague present for our third-place gathering jumped in with what she called the story—dare we use the word parable here?—of the girl and the starfish: a young girl, spotting thousands of starfish being washed up on a beach, began throwing some back into the water and, when questioned why she was addressing such an insurmountably large challenge with an action that seemed so insignificant, responded that it wasn’t insignificant to the starfish that she saved.

It didn’t take us long to identify the Medici Effect moment in both stories: what was, up to that moment, an individual effort of providing small offerings of food took on greater import through the sharing of the story about the bags of groceries. If even one of us hearing the story adopts the practice of carrying and distributing groceries to those in need, then our colleague’s action has been multiplied and we are one step closer to supporting what she has inspired to the benefit of those who might otherwise not receive the gift of being acknowledged as members of our overall community.

And at a human level, there was even more: one element that makes our third-place/Medici Effect onsite-online community continue to thrive and grow is that there are no overtly closed doors—new members join as quickly as they express interest in becoming part of the overall conversation.

That happened again last night when our wonderful waitress at Mint Downtown Thai restaurant became part of the various conversations we had and, upon learning that we were among the more than 5,000 people spending the next several days in San Diego to attend the ALA midwinter meeting, immediately asked us each to tell her what our favorite books are so she would have more works to explore. Among those suggested: the novels Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett; The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruis Zafón; and The Power of One, by Bryce Courtenay, along with the Notzake Shange’s poetry collection For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf. And, as is the obligation of any member of a third-place/Medici Effect community, she responded with her own favorites: Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent and Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God.

So, for those of us who were present—including new community member Ashli at Mint Downtown Thai—we had our cake and ate it too: we walked away with encouragement and inspiration to continue doing what we do, and we had the added benefit of being reminded of books we need to read—or reread—as our onsite-online connections continue growing.


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