High Tech at Tyger’s: Resistance Is Futile

January 19, 2013

Seeing someone wearing and using a Google Project Glass product at a neighborhood diner here in San Francisco was not among the experiences I expected to have over brunch this morning. Like so many other people, I’ve been fascinated by reports of the continuing development of this latest foray into the world of augmented reality. I have also been wondering when we would have a chance to play with what Google has been developing and start seeing how it will affect the world of training-teaching-learning. It’s been my long-standing assumption that my first face-to-face encounter with a Google Glass device would be at a tech or educational conference.

But there I was, taking in the familiar faces of the Saturday morning crowd at Tyger’s (in San Francisco’s Glen Park Village), when my eyes froze at the sight of someone obviously wearing one of the devices that has been so prominently featured in so many articles over the past several months.

Google_GlassesThe stunning thing about this sighting is that Tyger’s is far from a hotbed of technology. It actually feels as if it sprang full-blown from the pages of Ray Oldenberg’s The Great Good Place and continues to be a living example of a vibrant, dynamic Third Place—a place where you can walk in whenever it’s open, know that you’re going to find a familiar face, sit with friends over a nice relatively inexpensive meal, and participate in conversation rather than being surrounded by people more engaged with smartphones and tablets than with face-to-face exchanges. It’s the sort of place where candidates in local board of supervisors races drop in to talk one-on-one with residents of their district, and where strangers don’t stay strangers if they patronize the place more than a couple of times.

Because Tyger’s is set up to foster conversation—the tables are set very close to one another, and it’s impossible not to overhear bits and pieces of nearby conversations—I didn’t feel the slightest reticence about immediately walking over to the table where the Google Glass user was sitting with his family. It also helps that a) I assume anyone wearing a new piece of technology is going to be far from shy about talking about it, and b) I’m hopelessly curious and socially inept enough to think that chatting up a total stranger is part of what fosters learning and nurtures new connections.

Our brief conversation quickly confirmed that the device actually was a fully-functioning Google Glass device; that it is not yet available to the general public and probably won’t be available to most of us for “quite a while”; that he didn’t find it at all difficult to interact with those with whom he was dining while also taking advantage of what the device offers; and that he was in possession of the device because he (of course) works at Google.

Returning to the people with whom I was sitting (“you really are a geek,” one friend lovingly admonished me), I took advantage of the fact that I was far enough away from him to not be an obvious nuisance, but was close enough to get a first-hand look at how someone wearing a Google Glass product would function in what is overwhelming an onsite Third Place rather than an extension of a virtual community.

What I noticed was impressive. He was sitting with his wife and one other adult, and was holding an infant in his lap. There was no visible sign that he was anything other than completely engaged with his child and the other people present at that table throughout the entire meal. And the way the device was positioned on his head (a small silver band with the tiniest of cameras positioned near his left eye without appearing to obscure his vision) made it relatively unobtrusive. In fact, he seemed far more present than most people who use smartphones and tablets appear to be—which, for me, raises some interesting questions about all I’ve read over the past few years regarding our overrated ability to multitask.

In our snarkier moments, many of us have reacted negatively to the sight of people with their Bluetooth devices plugged into their ears, and have suggested that we appear to be one step away from becoming part of a Borg collective. We’ve also suggested that, like the Borg, we’re falling into a frightening pattern of sheepishly accepting that “resistance is futile.”

Yet when I watched that Google staffer behaving no differently than anyone else at Tyger’s was behaving, and noticed that no one else at Tyger’s was even reacting to the presence of someone with a new tech device that is not yet available for purchase by most members of the general public, I found my attitude shifting just a bit. I no longer feel as if “resistance is futile” is a completely negative reaction to the sight of someone wearing a Google Glass product; I’m now a step closer to understanding the appeal of the wearable technology that colleagues and I have been exploring through work on the 2013 New Medium Consortium Horizon Project Higher Education Report. And I’m even more curious about what it will be like to try on a Google Glass device myself to see what it will bring to the entire field of training-teaching-learning.

N.B.: The photo accompanying this article is a generic Google Glass image.


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.


When Trainers Lead: Drawing From the Past to Build the Future

August 19, 2010

A magnificent—and not unexpected—success story is continuing to develop for the trainers-as-leaders at the ASTD Mt. Diablo Chapter in San Francisco’s East Bay Area: long-missing colleagues, including former members of the Chapter Board, are continuing to return to the organization after months or years of absence. More importantly, they are quickly becoming re-engaged in the organization’s growth and sustainability and are offering much needed skills.

Some are becoming formal business partners. Others are considering new volunteer non-Board roles in support of initiatives like special interest groups to serve members’ and prospective members’ professional development and workplace learning and performance needs. And still others are simply being drawn back to the Chapter’s monthly meetings because of the learning opportunities offered by guest speakers at those events.

As noted in earlier articles, this 80-person chapter of the 40,000-member national/international organization (the American Society for Training & Development) with more than 130 chapters in the United States and more than 30 international partners, was near collapse three years ago. A few dedicated Board and non-Board members refused to let it go under, and their (our) efforts have helped to bring it back to its position as a well focused, structurally sound, vital, vibrant, and sustainable community of learners in a heavily populated part of the San Francisco Bay Area.

The rewards to the Chapter and its supporters are obvious. Our members go far beyond the usual pay-your-dues-and-run sort of relationship often maintained within organizations. They bring a level of engagement which shapes and nurtures the sort of third place—community meeting place—described by Ray Oldenburg in The Great Good Place and the complementary fourth place—a community gathering place for social learning—that several of us are just beginning to define and promote.

Our still-evolving vision of business partners through our Chapter Community Involvement process builds upon existing strengths instead of attempting to create something from scratch through cold calls with those who are completely unfamiliar with what we do and offer. Those business partnerships are a real point of pride for us and serve as an easy model for others to pursue. They begin with us looking at resources far-too-long ignored: Diane Fleck, a former Chapter Board president who became inactive in the Chapter after successfully establishing a business through the contacts she developed via ASTD—not her fault that she fell away, mind you; it happened because the Chapter no longer worked to be an important part of what she needed. That’s a chilling warning for those who don’t know that they’ve got till it’s gone.

Lynda McDaniel, our second business partner, came as naturally as the first: she is a Chapter member with tremendous writing and outreach skills—which she is willing to use on our behalf in exchange for the additional visibility it creates for her. Again, everyone wins. And our latest partners, Steven “Shags” Shagrin and Thornton Prayer through The Networking Lounge, are two consultants who have offered invaluable pro bono organizational development support at critical times in the Chapter’s growth; by acknowledging what they have done in ways that bring them visibility, we’ve nurtured another important relationship while gaining additional resources—including free meeting space—at a time when the number of activities we are scheduling is increasing and free meeting space will be critically important to the success of those events.

So here we are, a small and growing community of learners creating a fourth place for those who want and need it. And all that is needed—how strange and encouraging that what once seemed so daunting now is almost casually dismissed with the phrase “all that is needed”—by anyone wanting to build from this example is a core group of dedicated members who would not and will not give up something that they value; a shared vision which evolves to meet the community’s needs; and a willingness to cherish past resources in ways that re-engage them in the present and the future.


Community, Collaboration, and Learning: Time for the Fourth Place

August 15, 2010

It appears to be time to further develop what Ray Oldenburg initiated with The Great Good Place. That wonderful and still-influential book, first written and published more than twenty years ago in a pre-World Wide Web era, suggests that our first place is our home, our second place is where we work, and our third place is the treasured community meeting place where we, our friends, and colleagues come and go. The idea of the third place has been embraced by many, and has a counterpart in “the Intersection,” which Frans Johansson describes in his own more recently published book, The Medici Effect, as a place where people of differing backgrounds meet, exchange ideas, and, through their intersection, develop and disseminate new ideas.

What seems to be ripe for development now is a complementary fourth place: a community gathering place for social learning. The idea for this version of a fourth place (more about other versions in a moment) came out of a discussion two days ago with colleagues participating in the latest episode of Maurice Coleman’s biweekly T is for Training podcast—which, in its own way, has become an online third/fourth place for an ever-expanding community of learners comprised of those involved and/or interested in workplace learning and performance in libraries.

The potential development of the fourth place as community gathering place for social learning is worth exploring in and of itself since it embraces all that the concept suggests and it serves as an online example of what both Oldenburg and Johansson describe in face-to-face settings. Coleman’s latest podcast began with a handful of us discussing what we would love to see discussed at the annual Computers in Libraries  conference, to be held in Washington DC in March 2011. Because T is for Training colleague Jill Hurst-Wahl, who serves as Assistant Professor of Practice in Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies and is involved in planning the conference, was participating in the discussion, we quickly started dreaming about topics that have been on our minds, including the idea that “Computers (and Humans) in Libraries,” with a strong emphasis on listening to what library users want from libraries, might open some doors and eyes. As if on cue, the remaining participants—Coleman, Library System of Lancaster County Training Coordinator Stephanie Zimmerman, Statewide MarylandAskUsNow! Coordinator Julie Strange, and I—were joined in our Intersection by a contributor who had not previously called in during one of the live online sessions: someone who identified himself as Rutgers University student Walter Salem.

Salem was exactly what we were seeking: a person who is not involved in training but who expressed a passion for what libraries are, what they have been, and what they are becoming. While he was commenting via the audio portion of the program, a few of us noted via the typed chat that he seemed to be describing Oldenburg’s third place, and we actually suggested that to him. At that point, he corrected us by emphasizing that what he really loved was the sense of a place where he was surrounded by learning and the potential for learning, and that’s where we started translating his thoughts into something concrete for libraries and any other onsite or online community willing to use all the tech and human tools available to us.

“Maybe we’re looking at a ‘fourth place’: the educational community meeting place where members of the community gather,” I suggested via the typed chat.

“The interesting thing is that this ‘fourth place’ can be anywhere,” Hurst-Wahl immediately typed back. “It needs to be a ‘place’ where there are resources (people, books, computers, etc.) to connect people to the knowledge that they want to acquire.”

It didn’t take long for all of us to agree that this is an idea well worth nurturing and promoting, and Coleman had, before the live discussion ended, provided the refined fourth place definition with which we are working: “a community gathering place for social learning.” And while all of us were specifically thinking of the roles libraries could play as this sort of fourth place, it’s obvious to me that there’s room for fourth places of this level in almost any onsite or online setting where learners come and go, where they seek a community of support and a chance for Intersection-level exchanges, and where the place itself serves as and inspires communities of learning.

Curiosity, of course, compels us to immediately ask whether others have already toyed with the idea of a fourth Oldenburgesque place. The answer is yes, and one of them appears to have made its online debut just a month before we had our own Intersection moment: Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class and other more recently published books, proposed his own version of a fourth place as a mixture of commerce and engagement. And writer-consultant Doug Fleener was actually five years ahead of us with a proposal of fourth place  as “a gathering place inside a store for customers who share a common interest in the products and services the retailer sells.”

So perhaps what we are working with are sub-sets of Oldenburg’s original third place—communities with specific interests. Or an entirely original version and description of the important places in our life. Or, perhaps with yet another nod to the brilliance of the entire Web 2.0 and Learning 2.0 phenomena, we’re looking at Place 4.0, and an acknowledgment that there is room for all three proposals described here: a series which begins with Place 4.1, Place 4.2, and Place 4.3, then continues with the infinite possibilities of places that are different, yet intrinsically connected to, what Oldenburg has set in motion.

Let’s see how many interesting Places this might take us or produce.

Updates: Jill Hurst-Wahl, on August 17, 2010, has continued the conversation on her Digitization 101 blog (at http://hurstassociates.blogspot.com/2010/08/community-collaboration-and-learning.html).


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