Adapting to Change, Loss, and Possibilities: Raucous Laughter, Anguished Sobs, and Outrage

June 27, 2020

Effectively transformative humor, at its best, evokes a strong mixture of raucous laughter, anguished sobs of grief, and overwhelming outrage—something that has been on abundant display as we continue adapting to shelter-in-place guidelines implemented in response to the current coronavirus pandemic and as we attempt, once again, to collaboratively address some of our most divisively tragic challenges. Humor can bring us much-needed relief when it inspires the (currently muted) sense of optimism some of my most cherished colleagues display during our “face to face” online conversations via Zoom and Google Meet and through their social media posts on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. It can also inspire us to positive action when the brutal, over-the-top dark nature of that humor inspires action through outrage in response to overwhelming challenges including systemic racism and police brutality directed at Americans, as we see through the work of satirists like Roy Zimmerman, Shirley Serban, and Don Caron.

At a personal level, I’m deeply moved and at the same time frustrated by posts along the lines of what I have been seeing from one particularly cherished friend and colleague. He’s a bright, intelligent, very funny, very upbeat, very compassionate friend. His posts, focusing on what he refers to as “good news” during a time of pandemic, are wonderfully inspirational, provide much-needed humor, and remind me why I have considered him a cherished friend and associate over a very long period of time—a combination of relationships I very much look forward to continuing for as many more years as we have left to us.

My own mood, in contrast, has fluctuated wildly during this entire period of sheltering in place while maintaining strong social interactions and attempting to foster positive responses to all that we are facing. I try to maintain and inspire a sense of optimism and a commitment to fostering positive action in very small and very large ways in tragically discouraging and divisive times.

Humor as a catalyst to positive change is often at the heart of what my friend/colleague, many other friends and colleagues, and I attempt to promote at a time when I am relearning that humor comes in all sorts of sizes and shapes. There is the wonderfully optimistic spin my friend consistently manages to give to what he sees and hears. There is also the deeply poignant, sometimes bittersweet, and sometimes just kick-them-in-the-gut humor/satire that inspires that raucous laughter, those anguished sobs, and that sense of outreach I mentioned earlier—which is why I decided to write a version of this article to my friend earlier today and then expand it into this invitation to join the conversation and seek ways to reshape our world in a way that makes it more compassionate and more responsive to the pain, suffering, and inequality that many members of our communities continue to feel.

I wrote—and am writing—very much in the moment, with his two most recent posts in mind. But. With. The. Sense. That. This. Captures. Much. Of. The. Wonderful. Work. I. Have. Seen. From. Him. Over. The. Past. Couple. Of. Months. I’m seeing celebrations of what may be coming down the pike—mostly celebrations of what others are doing (e.g., working on vaccines) while we wait around (without doing something as simple as wearing a mask) and hope for the best. I’m also seeing some important much-needed call-outs against those who seem to want only to focus on bad news without acknowledging what very much is worth celebrating. What I’m not seeing—perhaps because I’m not paying close enough attention and perhaps because it’s not yet there—is a celebration of positive actions taken by the unsung heroes. Those who understand that wearing a mask and engaging in social distancing are ways of protecting others as much, if not more than, they are ways of protecting themselves/ourselves. Those who from positions of leadership encourage positive, collaborative, sometimes unpopular actions to attempt to address the challenges we face rather than placing individual liberty and rights above the equally strong needs of the community and holding (thankfully underattended) political rallies that encourage people to celebrate their unwillingness to help limit the spread of the coronavirus.

He accurately and justifiably points out that there are places in the U.S. where the spread of COVID-19 is not devastating communities. “It’s not, by the way, what the media would have you believe that it is,” he says in his latest post. “The cases are rising in a few states and that is painting a distorted picture of what’s happening nationally…Despite the fear-mongering that you’re hearing right now about the cases exploding…what we’re seeing is the death rate continuing to decline…the actual fatalities continue to decline…”

Looking at COVIDLY as a reliable tracking site for COVID-19 cases and deaths, on the other hand, reminds us that Australia had no reported deaths in the past 24 hours (midday, June 26-27, 2020)—a period of time when the United States had 834 deaths reported as directly related to COVID-19. Looking at the latest reports from The New York Times on June 27, 2020, furthermore, shows us that more than half the states in our country reported increases in cases and that, overall, ‘[m]ore than 2,509,400 people in the United States have been infected with the coronavirus and at least 125,300 have died.”

This hit home for me again late this week as I was in face-to-face-online meetings via Zoom with colleagues in Australia—where preventative actions have led them to halt the spread of the coronavirus much more effectively than we have so they can already be working on building a new and better normal. We might have been in a position to be doing this now if we had more aggressively taken the sort of individual actions they took rather than waiting for someone else to develop a vaccine—which, of course, doesn’t have to be an either-or choice! We can hope for development of effective treatments and vaccines while, at the same time, actively promoting and taking individual and collective action to slow or stop the spread of COVID-19 now. We can, while celebrating the numerous calls to action in response to the displays of racism and the almost daily documented reports of police brutality directed at Americans, also be doing things small and large in our own lives to build the foundations for a new and better normal in our country.

This is one of our challenges: to find whatever common ground we share. To produce and benefit from humor/satire that produces laughter, grief, and outrage. And to work toward creating a time when our laughter celebrates our small-scale foibles with far less need for evoking grief and outrage.

–N.B.: This is the thirteenth in a series of reflections inspired by colleagues’ reactions to the coronavirus and shelter-in-place experiences, and to our continuing interactions online.


Using Your Organizational Skills to Change the World Using Social Media

February 6, 2020

There is much more to social media than simply posting and waiting for results. The best efforts—including many of those highlighted in this series of excerpts from and interviews for Change the World Using Social Media (to be published by Rowman & Littlefield later this year—often combine first-rate communication skills online as well as onsite with tremendous organizational skills and organizational development. #BlackLivesMatter without the Black Lives Matter organization would be a far less influential movement than it is. #ClimateStrike, with the Global Climate Strike organization, combined online meeting place and onsite local chapters throughout the world to continue its work to foster positive responses to the global climate crisis, which is also promoted online through #FridaysForFuture and its online map of onsite events. #DACA takes on a real-world physical presence, through the support of more than 1,400 organizations and individuals, in its efforts to support undocumented immigrants who want to continue living in the United States. #MarchForOurLives benefitted and continues to benefit from the deft combination of a broad-based organization designed to reduce gun violence and online posts from organizers and supporters. #MeToo would be much the poorer if it didn’t have the organizational prowess the local and national organizations providing services to survivors of sexual violence and of Tarana Burke’s Just Be Inc., created to support young women of color “with the range of issues teen and pre-teen girls are faced with daily” more than a decade before her #MeToo hashtag went viral. #WomensMarch, with its broad-based network of trainings, programs and events, drives the movement to “harness the political power of diverse women and their communities to create transformative social change,” its website suggests.

The connections between the stories of March for Our Lives and Fridays for Future provide particularly noteworthy examples of how quick, consistent attention to the complementary nature of online and onsite (blended) interactions, and onsite-online organizational skills, led to successes for both groups. The process of creating a strong, sustainable March for Our Lives movement and organization, well documented in Dave Cullen’s book Parkland: Birth of a Movement and Lauren and David Hogg’s book #NeverAgain: A New Generation Draws the Line, rose out of the activists’ almost immediate recognition that building a strong organization would be essential to success; they drew upon experienced, knowledgeable supporters to help them after quickly recognizing that they needed to establish a nonprofit foundation to manage the large donations made in support of their efforts. Inspired by March for Our Lives and an earlier protest, in which students stayed away from school to stage a “climate strike” timed to coincide with the opening day of the 2015 United Nations Climate Change conference in Paris, Greta Thunberg began her school strike—an initially solitary effort calling attention to climate change—by standing alone (with a handmade sign in hand) in front of the parliament building in her own country in August 2018. Recognizing that she would need a well-run organization to support her efforts, she established Fridays for Future that month. She continued to combine her onsite efforts with online posts (through Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram) to call attention to her climate strike—an effort that steadily attracted a growing, yet relatively small group of supporters. The moment of transformation in terms of the amount of attention she was drawing to her cause came when that combined onsite-online effort led her to the opportunity to address members of the United Nations late that year, when she was 15 years old: attention through mainstream media outlets as well as through tremendously larger numbers of responses via Twitter (going from a few thousand responses on Twitter before the UN speech to more than 483,000 mentions by August 2019) allowed her make “an unquestionable impact,” and “nowhere is that more apparent than on social media,” Paul Herrera notes in an article for Maven Road.

But it’s not just about attention and reach; it’s also about the concrete results produced through those well-organized, blended efforts. When you look at what March for Our Lives has helped produce, you see changes in legislation at the state and national levels, growing support nationally for positive actions to reduce violence involving the use of guns, and efforts to register and engage new voters in the electoral process. When you look at Climate Strike, you see that the first sixteen months of activities put Thunberg in conversation with world leaders willing to support positive responses to the effects of climate change and “inspired 4 million people to join the global climate strike on September 20, 2019, in what was the largest climate demonstration in human history.” Those marches, executed with a scope and efficiency reminiscent of the Women’s March and March for Our Lives efforts, spurred action by students “in 2,233 cities and towns in 128 countries, with demonstrations held from Australia to India, the UK and the US.”

At the heart of all this is community—onsite, online, and at the level of the blended efforts so frequently apparent to you as engage in your own world-changing efforts and as you follow the work of those you admire for their world-changing actions.

Tips designed to create, nurture, and sustain these blended communities include establishing organizational plans—with strong mission, vision, and value statements—that help keep community efforts focused and measurable in terms of achievements vs. goals that remain unreached. They include a commitment to building relationships that allow your colleagues and supporters to see themselves as your partners in creating the change you are proposing to make. They are centered around a commitment and ability to tell your story briefly and engagingly through all means available to you onsite and online—in ways that are personal and invitational rather than coldly factual and distant. They are built upon an understanding that change—small-scale as well as large-scale—is a step-by-step process that requires building upon the successes you achieve and that are not derailed by the inevitable setbacks, opposition, and even harassment you and your colleagues will face. They include a commitment to learning from others—those who support you as well as those who oppose what you are attempting to accomplish—with a well-maintained commitment to empathy so you can understand why others might not be as enamored of what you are attempting to do as you are, and they require a strong commitment to frequently thanking those who support you and doing everything you can to keep those supporters informed, involved, and energized—actions that take you far beyond any mistaken belief that social media is a magic bullet that, once fired, resolves everything you and members of your community are attempting to resolve.   

N.B. — Paul has completed his manuscript for Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in 2020. This is the 22nd in a series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress.


Facing Online Harassment While Changing the World

January 29, 2020

When you think about the stories you have heard or read regarding online harassment—including trolling—through social media, you can easily make the mistake of thinking it won’t affect you. You might even unconsciously—as I have occasionally and unexpectedly found myself doing—mistakenly assume that those who are on the receiving end of trolling and other forms of online harassment are only the highly-visible world-changers taking controversial stands (as if that somehow fully explains why they are being harassed).

If you follow social media at all, you know that many people—those affiliated with Black Lives Matter, March for Our Lives, and Me Too, for example—have been subjected to trolling and other forms of harassment that are vicious, tenacious, threatening, and, at times, emotionally overwhelming. It interferes with their ability to continue or complete their work. It leaves them emotionally drained and feeling isolated. And it takes a toll on those around them, including family, friends, co-workers, and employers.

What you might have missed is the fact that plenty of others who are attempting to foster positive change in their communities through what they see as routine, uncontroversial actions have been equally traumatized by those who oppose them or simply take pleasure in provoking strong emotional responses among those they perceive to be weak, appropriate targets to torment. A study released by ADL (the Anti-Defamation League) in October 2019 suggests that more than a third of all Americans have “experienced severe online harassment”—which means that you don’t have to look very far to find someone who has had this experience (if it hasn’t already happened to you). And if you are at all confused by what a troll is and what behavior helps you identify a troll, you’ll find Todd Clarke’s list of “5 Signs You’re Dealing With a Troll” helpful in making that identification: “1) They’ll try to make you angry. 2) They act entitled. 3) They exaggerate. 4) They make it persona. 5) They often can’t spell.”

One of the most surprising set of targets I have encountered included several librarians who were simply doing what librarians do: fostering positive change within their communities by responding to the needs of library users and library colleagues through the creation and posting of resources to help them find information they need. (I first heard their stories while attending the panel discussion “Bullying, Trolling, and Doxxing, Oh My! Protecting Our Advocacy and Public Discourse Around Diversity and Social Justice” at the 2018 American Library Association annual conference, in New Orleans.) Two of the librarians had received an American Library Association 2017 Diversity Research Grant for a project to be called “Minority Student Experiences with Racial Microaggressions in the Academic Library”; the study was designed to use “surveys and focus groups to garner further insight into the specific experiences surrounding racial microaggressions directed at racial and ethnic minority students in the context of accessing library spaces and services on campus,” but was abandoned “[b]ecause of the level of harassment” directed at one of the librarians. Another of the librarians had tried to explain to colleagues, through a relatively brief (nine-paragraph) blog posting, what she called “race fatigue”—the “physical, mental, and emotional condition that people of color experience after spending a considerable amount of time dealing with the micro-and macro-aggressions that inevitably occur when in the presence of white people”—in an effort to make her colleagues aware of the situation and in the hope that something positive would come from recognition and discussion of that situation. A fourth librarian—working in a college library—had published an online document designed to “provide general information about anti-oppression, diversity, and inclusion as well as information and resources for the social justice issues key to current dialogues” within the college community.

When the reaction of those who wanted to torment each of the librarians began to hit, several of the recipients of trolling and other forms of online harassment were stunned and transformed by what they experienced, they said. They were “doxxed”—their contact and other personal information (e.g., email addresses, home addresses, and home phone numbers) were widely disseminated online—as part of a campaign to not only discredit them but also to interfere with the work they were doing. And, in some ways, it worked. At least one of them asked her employers to remove her contact information from her university’s website—a process that took far longer than expected because no one seemed to be prepared for the trauma that the librarian was experiencing as a result of a weeks-long barrage of threats and hate mail, nor seemed quite sure of how to respond expeditiously to the request. A few of the librarians sought help from a variety of sources, including members of police departments, but found that support was lacking because no actual crimes had been committed by those threatening (rather than actually committing) acts of violence against the librarians and their families.

A fifth librarian (who was originally scheduled to be part of a panel discussion I attended, but ended up telling her story online after she was unable to attend the conference) offered a bit of positive news: her employer was behind her all the way from the time the harassment began.

“Thankfully, and much to my honest surprise, my employer had my back,” she wrote in a piece posted on Medium.

What all of this suggests is that in preparing for that awful moment when—not if—you are on the receiving end of trolling or other forms of online harassment, you need not be or feel as if you are alone; there are steps you can take to lessen the trauma and frustration harassment is designed to provoke; and you can draw upon your community of support to help you through the experience in ways that allow you to continue engaging in positive actions to help change your world.   

N.B. — Paul has completed his manuscript for Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in 2020. This is the 21st in a continuing series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress.


Changing the World With Patrick Sweeney (Part 2 of 2)

January 17, 2020

This is the second  of a two-part interview conducted with Patrick Sweeney, Political Director for EveryLibrary, for my book Change the World Using Social Media (Rowman & Littlefield; to be published in 2020). The interview was conducted online using a shared Google Doc, and has been lightly edited.

On the theme we were pursuing earlier: it seems pretty clear that EveryLibrary sees part of its work as the work of training/educating prospective supporters. How do you train your own trainers (e.g., board members, volunteers, other supporters involved in reaching out to prospective supporters) to serve effectively as supporter trainers?

That’s largely a personality issue. People who want to be trainers will be—and if they want to be, then we’ll take the time to teach them how. It’s really hard to teach people to be trainers if their heart isn’t in being a trainer. It’s much easier and more efficient, in my experience, to hire for personality and then teach skills. I can teach anyone to do the work, but if they don’t want to do it, or if they have a personality that doesn’t engage like that, then I can’t teach someone to change their personality.

Are you doing those trainings face to face, online, both, or in some way that I’m just not putting out there through this question?

Training to do the work of the organization or the work of advocating for libraries in general?

Was thinking specifically about the advocacy side of the process…

Sure, so we do a ton of speaking, workshops, webinars, etc. every year. We don’t do enough “onboarding” of people who want to get involved, and we’ve had complaints about that from the community. But, we are doing so much so quickly that it’s hard to onboard someone. We have about a dozen really active volunteers that do a lot of work for us and for libraries, and it’s admittedly one of our weak points that we don’t have hundreds. We’re trying to change more into the networked change model of organizational development, but that’s a big curve and we just don’t have the capacity to make that switch this second. But we’re really close to being able to do a lot of advocacy training and onboarding of board members, volunteers, etc.

We are using Facebook to identify volunteers and find the kinds of people who want to be engaged at a much deeper level. So, we have volunteer sign-up forms and everything. We also organize volunteer days and other events for volunteers to get involved, but we’ve gotten mixed results with that. Still, the only people showed up were people who had more personal relationships to us beyond just Facebook ads or posts or whatever.

Anything else you want to offer in terms of tips about Facebook?

A million things…but one of the biggest things that we use are all the deep data tools that Facebook allows to help us create really significantly data-driven ads. So, we can run ads about donating to just people who are known donors to causes that are similar to libraries, and we can target them by a bunch of consumer index models. So, people who are donors, who have kids, who like libraries, who make 50,000-100,000 a year, and are in their thirties, can get an ad that is specific to them and their beliefs and Facebook gives us a ton of data about those people. For example, I can see that these people are mostly made up of “Tenured Proprietor” and those kinds of people are made up of “households are large, upper-middle income families located in cities and surrounding areas. Activities, media and spending all reflect priorities of home and children.” This helps us craft ads about libraries and donating to libraries around those interests. Of course, we can also see what their top “likes” are on Facebook and other issues that they care about, and [then] tailor ads just for them. Connecting the value of librarianship to their already held beliefs is how we radicalize them about libraries. We aren’t changing their mind about libraries; our goal instead is to connect libraries to their already held beliefs and then, by doing that, we are raising the value of libraries to them.

N.B. — Paul is currently writing Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in 2020. This is the twenty-first in a continuing series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress.


Changing the World Through Online Fundraising

January 10, 2020

When you think about exploring how online fundraising can contribute positively to your efforts, you might want to start by spending time online reviewing the work of GoFundMe Chief Executive Officer Rob Solomon who, Smart Company suggests in a headline to a story about Solomon, “wants to change the world.”

  Solomon, writer Denham Sadler reports in that article for Smart Company, “says GoFundMe, a crowdfunding platform for personal causes, is creating real change in the world and using the power of the startup capital of the world for good.” It is a website and an organization that centers around the efforts of individuals willing to go online to seek financial help from others to meet personal needs (funds for school, funds to cover medical expenses, and myriad others) as well as larger needs, such as obtaining millions of dollars to support the March for Our Lives project and providing funds to families affected by the Parkland/Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shootings; collecting $22 million for the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund “to provide legal support to people who have experienced sexual assault and harassment in the workplace” [the most successful GoFundMe campaign in 2018], and helping numerous others all over the world.

As is the case with so many other social media tools we can explore, it is a service and an endeavor very much grounded in the art of inspiring action through storytelling; people are moved to contribute through the heartfelt descriptions provided by those organizing and managing the various campaigns showing how donors make positive differences through their generosity and willingness to collaborate with people they didn’t previously know.

“The biggest surprise is how much positivity there is in the world,” Solomon said in an interview, with Shubert Koong, that was published on the WePay blog. “News cycles and the social web often present a barrage of negativity. Yet I’ve been surprised by just how much people are compassionate, sympathetic, and empathetic—they genuinely want to help. And the power of the people collectively—which we’re happy to support—can have an impact that is massively outsized even compared to some of the largest foundations and individuals in the world.”

It clearly does not operate in a vacuum; the most effective campaigns, regardless of the fundraising goals set, reach potential donors through the use of a variety of other social media tools (including Twitter and Facebook), other mainstream media resources (e.g., newspaper articles; news coverage on television locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally; and radio programs), and numerous, creative outreach efforts from individual to individual and organization to organization. It is one of those social media tools that can be integrated easily into other social media tools to extend the reach of the messages posted and requests made. And as is the case with any good fundraising effort, it requires honest, well-planned, and well-executed campaigns that leave no doubt as to the veracity of the stories told and the positive impacts donors can have by giving at any level that is comfortable to them.

GoFundMe also provides a magnificent infrastructure for those using its services. It offers easy-to-assimilate guidance on how to set up and manage campaigns; provides plenty of ideas on how to reach the largest possible audience for any campaign posted on the site; and maintains a dynamic set of pages listing current campaigns as well as documenting campaigns that have reached successful conclusions. It reminds you, once again, that one of the best ways to understand social media is to explore it to see how others use it successfully to further their causes and reach their goals.

An example cited by Solomon during a 2016 Startup Grind Global session involves James Robertson, a 56-year-old factory worker in Detroit who could not afford to buy a car, so was walking twenty-one miles every day to go to work and return home—leaving him with just a couple of hours every night to sleep before beginning another excruciatingly long walk and work day. Evan Leedy, a 19-year-old who became familiar with Robertson’s story, was moved by Robertson’s plight and his commitment to not losing the job he had struggled to obtain, so he started a GoFundMe campaign with a $25,000 goal to help Robertson buy a car and obtain payments for automobile insurance for at least a few months. Donations began pouring in almost immediately, and by the time the campaign was terminated 51 months later, more than 13,000 people had donated a total of $350,044 to change Robertson’s world in a positive way—and brought Leedy and Roberton together at a personal level that would never have occurred if GoFundMe hadn’t been—and provided—a vehicle to connect them.

 An obvious lesson learned from GoFundMe success stories is that small dreams and plenty of hard work can and often do produce huge results. Online platforms like GoFundMe can help you obtain the funding that supports the changes you are attempting to foster.   

N.B. — Paul is currently writing Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in 2020. This is the nineteenth in a continuing series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress.


Changing the World Using Telepresence

February 20, 2019

When members of the Elders Action Network want to meet, they don’t immediately begin booking flights, hotel rooms, and meeting sites. They often turn to Zoom, one of several videoconferencing tools that are increasingly becoming low-cost (or no-cost) go-to places for meetings that can combine onsite and online interactions.

The Network, primarily comprised of older activists living throughout the United States and actively engaged with each other locally, regionally, nationally, and through international travel and online interactions, includes educators, nonprofit administrators, environmentalists, writers, and others actively working together to change the world. Among the nearly three dozen representatives listed on the organization’s website and promoting positive solutions to societal and environmental challenges are Michael Abkin, National Peace Academy board chairman and treasurer; Lynne Iser, founding executive director for the Spiritual Eldering Institute, founder of Elder-Activists-org, a symposium facilitator for the Pachamama Alliance, and a participant in the making of the film Praying with Lior, which explores the story of how a member of her family (her stepson) with Downs Syndrome interacts in his community of faith as he prepares for his bar mitzvah; and Paul Severance, administrative director for Sage-ing® International, is a member of Al Gore’s Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

Cross-pollination between members of the Elders Action Network and other complementary groups through teleconferencing and other tools is obvious from the most cursory exploration of the Network’s website. Severance and others are involved in Sag-ing International—another elder organization, dedicated to “teaching/learning, service, and community” in ways that involve mentoring and creating a legacy for its individual members. At least one member is also active in the Seniors Action Network. Another serves as executive director of Gray Is Green, “an online gathering of older adult Americans aspiring to create a green legacy for the future.”

Their live and archived Zoom sessions provide a dynamic example of how you can easily use what you already have—a desktop or laptop computer, or a mobile phone or tablet—to incorporate videoconferencing into your work to consistently develop communities committed to fostering positive actions regardless of where you live. Zoom—with free and low-cost versions—offers them a dynamic social media tool that creates an onsite space for workshops, book discussion groups, webinars, and monthly community conversations among members of the organization’s “Elder Activists for Social Justice” and “Elders Climate Action” groups. In the live sessions, participants can see any colleague using a webcam and can hear any colleague enabling the audio capabilities of his or her computer or mobile device. Zoom, like many other video-conferencing tools, offers visual options including a screen filled by the image of the person speaking; a screen that has thumbnail images of all participants using their video feed; sharing of material (including slide decks) from a speaker’s desktop; and a live chat function that allows for backchannel conversations augmenting what is taking place in the main audio feed.

Some of the community conversation recordings are archived so the life of those meetings/conversations extends far beyond the live events themselves to engage others who are interested in but unavailable to participate live during the recordings.  They become part of the seamlessly interwoven conversations you, too, can be having with members of your own community.

As members of the Elders Action Network have discovered, you don’t need to be physically present with your colleagues to have “face-to-face” conversations. Using Zoom or other videoconferencing tools can, under the right conditions, make participants feel as if they are in the same space, having productive, community-building interactions regardless of where each participant is physically located. Recordings that are well produced can even leave asynchronous participants feeling as if they are/were in the live sessions. (I have repeatedly found myself reaching, without thinking, toward my keyboard to respond to comments in a chat feed before remembering that I am trying to respond to a live conversation that ended days, weeks, or even months earlier.)

In many ways, Zoom offers a great contemporary example of how your onsite and online interactions are increasingly merging if you take time to explore how Zoom, Skype, and other videoconferencing tools can create a sense of presence—telepresence or virtual presence—that creates engaging, global spaces where activists work together to foster social change. When you begin exploring the possibilities of collaborating online through the use of telepresence tools—those ever-evolving platforms including Skype, Zoom, and Shindig that, when used effectively, can make you feel as if you are in the same room with people who can be sitting on the other side of your state, your country, or the world—you discover what so many others before you have realized: our options for communicating with each other regardless of our physical locations are continuing to evolve rapidly in ways that can make our work easier than would otherwise be possible.

Exploring the technical side of telepresence tools provides a somewhat cold, efficient understanding of what they can offer you and those you serve. Actually seeing them used or using them yourself to achieve concrete results carries you right where you need to be: understanding that they can create a sense of presence and engagement that further expands the breadth and depth of your community, your levels of engagement, and the size of the community in which you work, live, and play. And remember: play, as always, is a key element of using these tools to their fullest potential; bringing a sense of playfulness to the ways in which you incorporate them into your change-the-world efforts is a surefire way to use them to produce results rather than making them the focus of your work and, as a result, detracting from rather than supporting what you and your colleagues are attempting to accomplish.

N.B. — Paul is currently writing Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in 2020. This is the eighteenth in a continuing series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress.


Changing the World With Maurice Coleman (Part 2 of 2)  

December 13, 2018

This is the second part of a two-part interview conducted with Maurice Coleman, Creator/Executive Producer/Host for the long-running T is for Training biweekly podcast, for my book Change the World Using Social Media (Rowman & Littlefield; to be published in 2019). The interview was conducted online using a shared Google Doc, and has been lightly edited.

 

Maurice Coleman, ALA 2018 Annual Conference

You clearly have strong, positive thoughts about the state of training-teaching-learning-doing in libraries. How does your continual fostering of the community of learning at the heart of T is for Training pay off for you and those you serve in your own library, community, and larger community of learning that extends through the American Library Association, Library Information & Technology Association division, and other parts of your learning environment?

Because of the show and conversations related to it, I am better at my job than I would be without it. The show is my training, continuing education, and master class. I know more about various aspects of my profession than sometimes I want to remember that I know. Also, I can bounce new ideas or steal great ones from the folks who appear on the show. In fact, just today, someone was looking at my office door where I have the “future literacies” graphic [from Jonathan Nalder’s FutureWe project] affixed and thought it an interesting concept. I would have been able to sort of explain the concept about various skills needed in the future, but just the graphic and conversation with our friend in Australia [Nalder] was insightful and incredible and that would not have happened without the T is for Training network in general and Paul Signorelli in particular.

What a wonderful expression of the global nature of the community you’ve fostered through T is for Training—and how the collaborative nature of that community connects a project like Jonathan’s with what you are doing here in the United States.

Let’s shift gears and go under the hood a bit for the benefit of those who don’t know how to start. What led to your decision to use TalkShoe as the platform for the podcast?

Because the show that inspired T is for Training, Uncontrolled Vocabulary, used it and it allowed folks to participate without using a computer—with just a phone call. Now is it way easier to participate on the show in front of a computer? Yes—but I have had folks just call from their car and still be able to actively participate in the show, which is a bonus. Also, it does all of the recording generating work and all of the work sending it to iTunes in the background, so I don’t have to worry about it. At this point, I am too lazy to move, unless there was—knock wood—some catastrophe at TalkShoe—then I would be hosed. I should probably download all the episodes……Hmm….[editor’s note: the hypothetical catastrophe actually occurred shortly after this interview was completed in spring 2018; T is for Training episodes recorded before 2015 disappeared from the TalkShoe server.]

Yes, please; was just going to ask about your current back-up for the archives, but already see the answer.

On a related topic (in terms of setting up): what would you recommend in terms of equipment and setting for the recordings of a podcast?

I record live episodes via a phone connection, so if you can, use a headset. It is way more comfortable than holding a phone up to your head for an hour. That goes even for a non-cell call.  Try to find someplace with few disturbances to set up to start the show. If you use TalkShoe or some other similar service, you may or may not have an open chat to monitor, and will need to have a computer set up to do so.

If you are recording the podcast, then editing the podcast, then putting it somewhere for folks to find, you can do it for not-too-much money. Even basic smart phones can record and create a sound file you can upload somewhere for someone to find it.

When I do that method of recording for future use, I use a computer with Audacity to capture and edit the sound recording, and use a microphone, by the Blue corporation, called a Snowball. You can also use the Blue Yeti. They are both good microphones for around 100 or so dollars and plug directly into your computer to create your recording. I know other podcasters use Apple-based products to record and edit their podcasts. I encourage you out there to ask your favorite podcaster, “Hey, what do you use to record your show?” and they can tell you their set-up.

Any other advice for anyone considering the use of podcasting to help foster positive social change?

Be honest, real. Start small and start with what you have—most importantly, your good friends and colleagues. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and hang on for the ride.

N.B. — Paul is currently writing Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in 2020. This is the seventeenth in a continuing series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress.


Changing the World With Maurice Coleman (Part 1 of 2)

December 13, 2018

This is the first part of a two-part interview conducted with Maurice Coleman, Creator/Executive Producer/Host for the long-running T is for Training biweekly podcast, for my book Change the World Using Social Media (Rowman & Littlefield; to be published in 2019). The interview was conducted online using a shared Google Doc, and has been lightly edited.

 

Maurice Coleman

What would you suggest to anyone who is just beginning to look at podcasting as a way of helping foster positive social change?

The usual.  Be yourself.  Be honest.  And though it may sound trite, be real. You may have to do some self-promotion in order to reach a larger audience. Also, don’t be surprised if your work reaches further than you can imagine.

What initially motivated you to move into podcasting?

I wanted to replicate the vibe and comradery I felt at conferences where I was surrounded with brilliant members of my “tribe” of trainers, computer folks and other gear/nerd/cool folk heads. I wanted that all of the time—not just a couple of times of the year if I was lucky, so, I took from a friend’s podcast and said, “Why not me?” That was 2008, and we have been going strong ever since.

When I went back to listen to the earliest episodes, I left with the feeling that everyone was just sort of wondering how to proceed and whether it would actually work. How long did it take for things to click for you and those you reach through T is for Training?  

I think it was the Christmas/year-end episode when Guest Host Emeritus Stephanie Zimmerman sang the T is for Training song. That is the “well, damn” moment. Also, people kept coming back to the show. Then someone nominated me for a Library Journal “Mover and Shaker” award in 2010, and that was additional validation that I knew what the heck I was doing—though I didn’t really need the validation, because I did the show for my personal benefit and anything else was gravy. Awesome gravy, but gravy still. I was also lucky to have the support of my library—and, specifically, my boss and director at the time—to do this during work hours. We believe in professional development, and my podcast continues to be a great source of my professional development.

When we were together recently, you said “People don’t start out wanting to change the world. They usually start out wanting to change this…this one situation.” Is there an identifiable moment when you went from doing the show for your personal benefit to doing it because you realized it was having a positive change on the face of training-teaching-learning-doing in the industry you serve?

Maybe personal benefit is the wrong phrasing, but it is close enough. I always feel a responsibility for keeping this ship going, and it was always both personal benefit and for the benefit of others. When I did the first show, I asked them by email if this was worth their time.  They all said yes and also came back, so, from the beginning, I knew that others wanted someplace where they could be amongst colleagues on a regular basis who shared their struggles and triumphs and knowledge around training and learning. Back then, trainers in libraries were this either weirdly-placed position in either HR [Human Resources] or IT [Information Technology], or it was someone’s second job in the system. And you were usually the only one. So, if you wanted to bounce ideas off of someone, you had to reach out outside of your system to find someone who knew your specific job stuff.  T is for Training provided and still provides that forum—I hope. Honestly, every week, I am surprised folks come back.

As one of your “usual suspects,” I see T is for Training in many ways: a podcast, a forum, a community of learners/community of learning, a virtual water cooler, a lab where ideas take shape and spread. Can you think of an example of a situation where something that happened on the podcast transformed, in a positive way, those involved in the recording to someone who listened to an archived recording?

Good lord. Maybe I think of the discussion we had yeaaaaars ago about libraries as more than book archives. We talked about the various places and the library as fourth place [libraries as social learning centers]. Did the Computers in Libraries conference presentation about it. And, about the same time, that became the prevalent library design and management thought—to provide those services thinking of the library as a community center providing rich life experience outside of traditional book-/author- based stuff.

While I am sure others can think of other things, that is what sticks out in my mind. I am somewhat oblivious to that larger ripple effect, and always hope the podcast did, can, and will help folks make their situation—no matter how they define situation—better for them, their family, their library, and their community.

As you know, I’ve been exploring and been fascinated for years by the idea that our way of carrying on conversations has changed out from under us as a result of how conversations extend across great periods of time and across multiple platforms. An example: we talk about something on T is for Training (e.g., libraries as a newly-defined fourth place), then continue that on Twitter or Facebook, months later face to face, and months or years later in a typed-chat conversation like this. How does that affect the work activists attempt to do by incorporating social media tools into their overall social-media toolkit?

Use anything and everything you have the energy and time to use. Always remember that the conversation is ongoing even if you are not directly participating in what it is now. Also, do that interview, share that story, wherever and whenever you can. Always stick to your talking points if you are doing an interview. Always pull the question back to why you are there or reject the premise of the question itself and bring it back to your needs. Use [social] media as your tool to get your message out to folks, not be used as a fad or a media sock-puppet.

Also, you don’t have to do it all yourself. You have friends and colleagues and acquaintances. Ask them to help. A message said many times, from many sources, is usually heard.

N.B. — Paul is currently writing Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in 2020. This is the sixteenth in a continuing series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress.


Changing the World Using YouTube and Podcasting

December 5, 2018

If the thought of reaching your current or prospective community of activists and other collaborators via YouTube or podcasts feels daunting, start simply, openly, and honestly—with something you know—as Phillip “Brail” Watson does. Watson, on his Facebook “Our Story” page, describes himself as “a classically trained vocalist, cellist, songwriter, rapper, clinician, producer and Berklee College of Music graduate” who wants to “change the world through music.” His extensive, well-developed, engaging presence on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms fully integrates his commitment to music, spirituality, and social change in ways that make it seem like the easiest thing in the world to do. And it can be for you, too, if you pursue it as diligently and purposefully as he does.

If you spend time with Watson online by exploring his use of social media, you begin to see and appreciative the possibilities available through the effective use of a platform like YouTube. His stunningly moving TEDxTopeka talk “Giving Back” on YouTube begins with a brief, beautiful, sung prayer—obviously an element of his work that flows from the core of all he is. He then quickly pulls you in by admitting “I’m going to do this all wrong”—an admission that challenges and begs you to stay with him to see where he is going in the 18 minutes he has under the standard TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) talk format. He asks you—just as he asks the live audience he is addressing in that recorded talk—to walk with him; to see what he sees, from his perspective; and to “feel the places” where he has been—in the hope that you, as he has, will come to understand the value of giving something back to the community you cherish. It’s an invitation to be part of something positive, something greater than you already are or might ever be—and it is an effective call to action because Watson draws upon his highly-developed use of language, poetry, musicianship, and inspirational skills to integrate all of those elements into the wonderfully moving video that documents his TEDxTopeka talk in 2015.

This is about far more than making and placing content on a social media site; it is about using everything you have developed and will continue to develop to effectively reach audiences and inspire positive action. It is about developing a body of work that weaves through everything else you do. It is about integrating that work in unexpectedly creative ways with other work you do and other opportunities you pursue. It is about transforming the (sometimes) simple act of recording and sharing your thoughts on YouTube and through podcasts into an act of inviting engagement with people you may never actually meet—and recognizing that you don’t have to physically meet someone to very much be drawn into their causes and being inspired to action by them, or inspiring them and drawing them into yours.

Describing the unexpected sequence of events that led to me finding and being inspired by Watson provides some lessons worth learning:

  • Although you want to have a specific audience in mind as you prepare a YouTube video or podcast, you will have no idea initially of how broad and diverse an audience you will eventually reach and inspire.
  • A presentation given in one venue, e.g., the TEDxTopeka talk, that is recorded, posted, and shared online, gains an extended life far beyond anything you could have provided if you had simply given that presentation and then moved on to something else.
  • The efforts you make to reach your audience produce only a small part of what is accomplished when others see and share your work; those efforts offer the same expansion you see when others retweet your tweets or share your Facebook posts in ways that produce rhizomatic expansion of what you thought might be little more than a moment lived and then forgotten.

My initial unplanned step toward finding Watson online was taken when my Topeka-based colleague David Lee King and I were doing another in our series of interviews for Change the World Using Social Media, my book-in-progress for Rowman & Littlefield. I had asked David for examples he had seen of how YouTube was part of the process of promoting positive change within a community. He did not mention Watson; instead, he responded with a description of a magnificent activist’s-dream initiative, Go Topeka’s Momentum 2022, which is described on the project’s website as “a comprehensive, actionable, and consensus-based plan…to make Topeka-Shawnee County a better place to live, work, play, and do business.” King pointed me toward a two-minute video that very much impressed me: “Topeka & Shawnee County Have Momentum,” posted on YouTube by the citizen-activists in the Greater Topeka Partnership. It seemed to have everything that a video call-to-action should have: high production values, a clear message (that Topeka has lots to offer and can become even better if community partners work together to build upon its existing strengths to chip away at its weaknesses), and an obvious call to action—until I heard from Jill Hurst-Wahl during separate conversations for part of the book.

There is no gentle way to express what Jill noted after viewing the video I had so enthusiastically shared: it didn’t have many images of people, but the images included in the video did little to hint that nearly 25 percent of Topeka’s population is African-American or Hispanic. That’s when Jill found and offered a different video version of the topic: Watson’s “Topeka Proud” video, posted on Vimeo. Same city, much different viewpoint—and one that aligns with parts of the Momentum 2022 initiative calling for efforts to foster and promote greater diversity and inclusivity in Topeka. And seeing what Watson had produced led me to seek out much more of what he was doing—on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere.

This provides another opportunity for a reminder worth repeating: you can certainly choose one specific social media platform that best suits your goals as someone attempting to foster positive change in your community, but creating an integrated presence over multiple platforms tremendously increases the chances that you will reach the largest possible group of community partners to help you reach those goals.

As you move into a more complete exploration of YouTube and podcasts as tools you can use in your efforts, it’s worth noting that there is at least one more encouraging piece to the Go Topeka/Topeka Proud story: a second video, posted on YouTube by the Greater Topeka Partnership eight months after the first one appeared, pushes the story forward with a much broader cast of characters featured: the ethnic diversity that is obvious through the inclusion of Enimini Ekong (Brown v. Board of Education National Historical Site), Leo Espinoza (College and Career Advocate, Topeka USD 501 Schools), Marcus Clark (senior pastor, Love Fellowship Church, East Topeka), Angel Zimmerman (Zimmerman & Zimmerman, PA), and others. This is clearly a community that is effectively and creatively working to promote the most positive results it can imagine.

N.B. — Paul is currently writing Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in 2020. This is the fifteenth in a continuing series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress.


Changing the World Through Blogging

September 21, 2018

If you have the mistaken impression that you can’t blog, you might want to check out Hannah Alper’s “Call Me Hannah” blog for inspiration. Starting it when she was nine years old and driven by a desire to be involved in promoting positive change in the environment, this extraordinary Canadian—who is 15 years old at the time of this writing—found her voice, her audience, and an opportunity to grow in ways that continue to have an impact through her work as an “activist, blogger, motivational speaker, and author.”

Alper stands out as a wonderful example of someone whose blogging and other social media endeavors are part of an overall toolkit that helps her reach her audience in world-changing ways. Building upon the success of her blog, she has published a book (Momentus: Small Acts, Big Change) comprised of interviews with other activists. She gains further attention for the causes she promotes by doing interviews for print publications and television stations. She travels as a presenter as well as someone who documents the changes she is promoting. Through all of these efforts, she conducts herself in ways that channel the attention she is receiving into attention and information about the causes she supports.

There are obvious elements to notice in her blog. She consistently displays a simple, effective use of language. She projects a sincere approach to the topics she tackles as her interests continue to evolve. She includes engaging photographs that help establish a persona that flows through all her work. Most importantly, she provides consistent calls to action so readers know they are being invited to do more than consume what she writes, and she responds to the comments they post; they are her partners in trying to create positive change in a world about which they care deeply.

Tracing the ever-evolving arc of her work is easy, given the record of those interests she continues to explore through her blog. One of her earliest pieces, “Be More Eco-Friendly for $10 and 10 Minutes,” documents the efforts she made with her mother to create recycling bins in their home to reduce the amount of garbage they were adding to local landfills, and even this early post—written when she was nine—reached out to readers with the hope that “you might try this too” and an invitation to those readers to share their own ideas about recycling. Within a few years, she was advocating for positive responses to bullying and actively involved in other WE Movement initiatives that are community-based, national, and global in their reach while also continuing to advocate for small actions that contribute to large-scale environmental change through recycling, composting, and even engaging in impromptu efforts to pick up trash from her local schoolyard. That September 20, 2015 post on her blog continued to feature encouragement to her readers—“I always say little things add up to make a big difference”—along with simple, concrete actions her readers could take if they, too, wanted to be part of the effort to make communities cleaner. Her most recent posts have covered themes as varied as the March for Our Lives activities in March 2018, the continuing decline of global bee populations, mental health issues (particularly in terms of how they affect people within her own peer group), and using social media in advocacy.

What remains most striking in her writing and serves as a tremendous reminder to you about an approach you can pursue in your own blogging for social change, however, is her willingness to be inspiringly transparent. A piece published last week, for example, reads as a from-the-heart admission that while she loves what she does and remains in awe of many of the people she continues to meet through her work, it isn’t easy and it does take a toll. In that “It’s Not Always Sunshine and Rainbows” post, she reflects on how she is “often mocked and put down” by classmates; how the negative comments make her question her choices and lower her self-esteem; and how the work she has chosen to pursue causes her to “miss out on everyday things like clubs and student council.” And, as usual, she concludes with the suggestion that her readers—her fellow travelers on the journey she (and you) have obviously chosen to take—remember why they have chosen that particular journey—“and then, keep going.”

This, then, is part of the power of blogging to change the world. It provides you with a chance to compose your thoughts before sharing them with members and prospective members of your community of support. It provides for plenty of opportunities for engagement if you are willing to court and respond to comments from members of your community. It allows you to build a body of work to which you can return as your own interests develop. It can be a key pathway to telling your story. After all, as so many writers have said, there are times when if you want to read something, you have to write it yourself—and then hope that it leads to the small-, medium-, and large-scale changes you are attempting to foster.

N.B. — Paul is currently writing Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in 2020. This is the fourteenth in a continuing series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress.


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