Internet Friends

It’s worth the six minutes necessary to watch the reflections from this young person as she discusses the biases and stigmas we often hear related to acquiring and maintaining Internet friendships. Much of her monologue relates well to the development of personal learning environments and Jurgenson’s notion of “digital dualism”.

Notable quotes:

“I really think that if I hadn’t joined some of these Internet communities at such a young age I would have a much more difficult time transitioning into adulthood.”

“When my cat was diagnosed for diabetes, there was a forum for that. And I would challenge you to find another group of people who were as enthusiastic and willing to give two craps about my cat’s blood sugar at four in the morning than the people on this forum.”

“They’re my classmates, and you use one another like you do when you’re in a class, when you need help, when you need to talk to peers, just as you would when taking a class on site.”

“Then you have Tumblr and everyone who’s followed my blog from the very beginning and it’s just been really awesome to grow with this Tumblr community of museum people and other scientists and to be able to share one another’s successes and really encourage one another and celebrate our achievements…”

“So it just really frustrates me that there’s still this stigma by some people that just because I haven’t breathed the same air that our friendship isn’t valid.”


“It’s Not Going Away”

My brother George recently wrote the post “Denying Our World” where he recalls a compelling narrative that causes him to reflect upon what it means to live ‘online’ and our associated imperative as educators to teach to this reality. In the comments of this post, ‘Kirsten T.” pushes back with a thoughtful response, and in part states:

I find the argument “It’s not going away” to be neither substantive, nor compelling. It echos to me the feet stamping of educators who say “I’ve always done it this way”.

I’ve used a form of the “it’s not going away” argument in past conversations and presentations, but its meaning for me seems very different than what is described by Kirsten. Since there seems to be discrepancies of understanding, I feel that the statement is worth exploring and further articulating. So what do I mean when I say “it’s not going away”?

First of all, what is the “it” that I am referring to? “It” is a transformed reality where access to new tools, abundant content, and vast networks simultaneously provide countless new affordances and associated challenges. “It” describes:

I could go on …

And what do I mean by “… is not going away”?

Change is constant, so obviously, our current conditions will not remain exactly the same. Rather, there are likely three possible futures related to these new affordances (this is a simplified argument but for real substance, check out Downes’ “Ten Futures“)

  1. Things regress, people get bored with media, and we go back to some pre-telephony version of society. I think this reality may include roller-rinks, dance-halls, and lots and lots of bowling. Actually, bowling may be a bit too high-tech especially if there are those digital scoreboards. In any case, I’m pretty sure this reality isn’t going to happen so there is not much need for further speculation.
  2. Governments, against the will of the majority, sign secret treaties that seriously threaten future innovation and the openness of the Internet. This is a horrifying reality, and unfortunately not very far-fetched. However, online protests to ensure and protect our Internet freedoms have been unprecedented in size and scope. The Internet allows citizens to have their voices heard, and collectively, people have successfully influenced ill-informed government legislation. And, an open and free Internet is the key to our own self-determination.
  3. Things move ahead; new tools are created, more content becomes available, and networks continue to be used to form and sustain important aspects of our relationships (including those of teaching and learning). And the implications of these technologies will continue to shape our world. Think, for instance, of what the impact of this “breakthrough” in spoken-word translation could have on our lives. We will soon have the ability to have accurate, automated live translation of our words into just about any language spoken. What does that mean for second-language learning? What does that mean for opening up our world to different forms of cultural knowledge? What does that mean for creating a more global, and peaceful society? And that is just *one* new technology.

We live in complex, media-rich, connected environments. As adults, we have built these spaces for our kids and set them up in situations where I’ve heard members of our generation exclaim, “I’m sure glad Youtube or Facebook didn’t exist when I was a kid!” But these do exist. And no one – no one – really understands the full implications of what these devices and spaces have on the future of our children. So what are our *obligations* in all of this as administrators, parents, and educators? Do we selfishly ignore “it” because it feels uncomfortable and complex? Or do we roll-up our sleeves, embrace this discomfort, and live up to our ethical responsibilities for our kids?

We don’t need to have all of the answers. But we need to model what it means to try.