Monday, April 11, 2016

Internet Friends

Quite regularly, a Facebook "friend" will declare his independence from the medium, either for the time being or, sometimes forever, a kind of "goodbye cruel world." I get it, of course, but at the same time it always makes me a little sad, especially when it's someone I care about who lives far away or is otherwise someone who I rarely see in person. It's a bit like they've left my life even as I know they're only a phone call away.

Over the weekend, I took part in the first of what is certain to be annual Play Empowers Pep Rally in Maryland. I was flattered to even be invited to deliver a keynote address and a pair of workshops. When I stepped up to the podium on Saturday morning and looked out at the audience, I suddenly felt as if my Teacher Tom Facebook page had opened and all those notional people who normally reside there in the form of thumbnail photos and pithy comments had come to life. Everywhere I looked I spotted faces I recognized, who I "know" without actually knowing, real live colleagues from around the continent (and even other continents) right there in what is crudely called "meat space." I've had the experience before in my travels yet it still both stunned and thrilled me. I wanted to stop right there and start exclaiming, "Hey, I know you! And you! And you!"

And while I managed to hold it together enough to get through my material, that's sort of what I wound up doing over the course of the weekend. Many of us hugged like old friends and our conversations were surprisingly easy considering that we were "only" social networking friends. Of course e-relationships will never replace meat space ones, but it certainly felt like I was amongst friends, even old friends at times, folks with whom I indeed shared history. If nothing else, we were coming together with a running start.

Some of it, I know, was specific to this special group of early childhood educators, many of whom I've been interacting with for years, but I've had similar experiences before with both family and friends, finding ourselves together already caught up and ready to go. I know it's fashionable to be down on social media, and some level of suspicion is appropriate, but getting to share a weekend like I just did with "mere" Facebook friends, laughing, debating, planning, and inspiring one another is an experience that graphically reminds me that there is nothing artificial or shallow about the real and wonderful people who are connected with me across time and space through this place called the internet.

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Francine said...

This is so timely. We just spent a weekend with dear friends of my husband's, people he has known for 20+ years, and whom I've come to also love in the 12 or so years I have lived here. Apart from my brother-in-law, and our son's godfather who we see a few times a year, many of us hadn't seen each other in years, but thanks to Facebook we have been able to keep up with each others' lives, and watch our kids grow up. We talked about this too, how despite its flaws social media is key in us continuing to feel connected.

Buddy said...

I feel the same way when I from time to time slowly scroll down my entire facebook friends list. Each name flashes images in my mind of the person especially their photo.
For some reason I feel much better after this little exercise. Keep up the good work Teacher Tom!

Trisha Dean said...

Commanded beautifully as usual Teacher Tom! It's funny - out of the whole three days, you are actually the only person I have spent meat space with before. But coming together with all these other like-minded souls - knowing them beyond teeny weeny squares on a screen...... knowing their tone, their bigger than life hearts...... I can't even begin to give words to my experience yet. And part of me is glad that I have had you to do some of that now.

Jane Doe said...

I totally agree! I have found such wonderful connections on social media. I really get my collaboration-seeker itch scratched when engaging online with other educators. I like seeing how other people think about teaching, children and learning communities.

Thanks for this reminder:))

Patrice said...

So wish I had been able to be there to meet all of my online mentors, like yourself, and tell them how much they have all meant to me and my practice. As a family child care provider, I often get lonely for professional conversation. It truly helps to have you all or there in cyber space encouraging me along.