Posts Tagged Social media

Let the Great World Spin (and Tweet)

169. Let the great world spin
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I’m becoming a compulsive Twitter user – a “Twitterite” (clumsy but preferable if you will to David Cameron‘s proposed nomenclature – “Too many Tweets make a….”).

It’s becoming something of a love affair, albeit late to bloom and against my better judgement. Twitter really (really) works for me. It’s my intellectual, social media shaped, hit of KFC.  And like the Colonel, it’s a cunning beastie – because it appeals to my unabated curiosity and inferiority complexes in equal measure. This is both good and bad.

It’s good in that I feel more exposed and connected to the possibilities of the world courtesy of the genius of many of my fellow inhabitants – which is exhilarating and empowering.  It’s bad in that it’s hard to turn the tap off, to look away for fear of missing ‘the next thing’, to accept that there will always be more. That ‘This is Enough’.

Just now I had a slightly different but equally uneasy realisation about how my relationship with Twitter – like all good love affairs – was filling me with just a little more melancholy than an almost fully grown man should be feeling on a Friday evening.  For it occurred to me that although Social Media (in its many guises) oft gives us a sense of  unfettered access and untempered reach, on occasion it can also cruelly remind us of our all too real limitations (and frailties) in the face of  the sheer scale of our world and all that sails in her – most of which we can never hope to know, see nor understand.

And yet hasn’t this forever been a universal truth? Perhaps; but unlike the generations that have gone before us, whose aspirations for universal enlightenment (and connection) were naturally constrained from the outset by the dull facts of time, space and technological limitation, today the tools at our disposal create – every now and again, however fleetingly – the illusion that connection to all human knowledge and experience is truly within our grasp. That we might in fact one day, “slip the surly bonds of earth” to “touch the face of God“.

The reality of course is somewhat different. And potentially challenging to accept as such.

The epigraph from the wonderful Colum McCann book – Let the Great World Spin – sprang to mind as I pondered this. It’s a quote from Aleksandr Hemon’s The Lazarus Project:

“All the lives we could live, all the people we will never know, never will be, they are everywhere.  That is what the world is”.

At first reading there is a deep sadness in these lines. An inevitability of experiential poverty; of denial and regret.  But in the context of McCann’s book in particular they are presented at the outset (in hindsight) as a challenge to us. A challenge which evokes the central tenet of interdependence (a concept made live for me by my unwitting spiritual curator Rohan Gunatillake) – which lies at the heart of many religious traditions and faiths, not least Buddhism, and is the reality of human existence.

For having opened with these lines McCann then sets about ripping them (and their gloomy sentiment) apart by weaving a set of stories which capture the very real human possibilities and hope which our inherent interdependence make available – and inevitable (when we are truly awake to it) – to each of us. Possibilities in and hope for this life, this person, this moment.

And in doing so McCann in fact offers us a reminder and extends an invitation: to disavow the chase (and regret) for what must necessarily be a constructed reality of what might have been or never will be and instead embrace (and cherish) the sometimes challenging but ultimately organic reality of the lives we are/can live, the people we/will do know, the person we are and can become.

So what’s that got to do with Twitter or “social connectivity” tools? I’ve probably failed to articulate this at all well, but for now what I think I mean to say is: yes, these tools can amplify the sadness that accompanies the recognition that in the finite course of a human life there will be many experiences, ambitions, realisations and relationships we shall never know. However long we remain online. But to regret these many imagined illuminations which Twitter and her social media kin could have/should have/may have bestowed upon me is nothing less than to regret all of the very real illuminations they already have. Illuminations for which I give thanks and which remind me of the need to remain awake and mindful in and of my own incredible reality.

I think this is an important challenge for our age – one I touched on previously here: the ability to remain mindful and conscious of the potential (and related interdependence) of the here and now in the face of almost limitless connectivity and the perceived alternate (and often idealised) realities which that exposes us to.

This is an ability we (and I in particular) must strive to master otherwise these social connectivity tools can – at their worst – become sources of suffering and regret, not liberation. And that would be a terrible tragedy.

When I had my moment of “Twitterite sadness”, an image of the connected “social-sphere” sprang to mind. Anyone with an interest in Neuro-Linguistic Programming would be unsurprised to learn that the subconscious had depicted a vast sphere of connections, with myself represented as a tiny orb, far flung and remote from the “centre” – the perceived heart of things, the place where this idealised view of my universally connected and enlightened self should/would ideally reside. Cognitive Behaviour Therapists or an enlightened mind would of course point out that how we see the world determines how we respond to the world. If I hold that image too long, allow it to become my reality then of course I’ll feel sadness at my perceived  inconsequence in the great scheme of things.

But thankfully I have the words of Marge Piercy to hand to remind me that:

“No one is at the centre, but each is her own centre”

I love that sentiment. It is empowering. And a reminder of the challenges, possibilities (and responsibilities) for each of us in a connected world.

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An Education – for the 21st Century

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I went on a bit of a “rant” today in response to some worryingly narrow responses to an excellent piece the wonderful Euan Semple had posted on his blog The Obvious, criticising a school (which the son of his friend attends) for withdrawing/banning the use of Facebook in school time.

I’ve copied the relevant exchanges/pieces below. I hope I didn’t upset Helen or Christian but sometimes you have to say what needs to be said. There is little more important than progressive education….we should continue to encourage a progressive discussion.

This seemed somehow apt today as I went along to the local Primary School to hear about the possibilities for becoming a Governor. I’ll be checking they harness social media in the classroom before I sign up to anything!

I’m glad to say that most of the posts that preceded and followed mine agreed with Euan’s original sentiment. So all hope is not lost….I was really touched by his kind words following my post. That, for those of you who don’t know the influence of the man, is praise indeed.

Anyway, here it is (was?) albeit a spell checked version (old habits..) starting with Euan’s original post. You can find the full exchange with all comments at his excellent blog which I’ve linked above.

Some thoughts on schools banning Facebook


Banning Facebook is like banning the telephone. What people in authority don’t realise is that it is just a tool. Any tool can be used or misused. What they should be focused on is harnessing its potential not being paranoid about what people do with it.

Facebook, like so many social tools, is actually primarily about learning. Yes learning what people had for breakfast – but also learning news, learning what works, learning what books are best to read, learning where to find the right bit of information.

It is particularly ironic when schools ban Facebook as they are the very ones who should be teaching effective use of this technology – not keeping their pupils stuck in some industrial, factory model of learning.

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Reader Comments (25)

When you’re at school, you are there for learning. Learning the important stuff – and the even more important stuff about being social in the first place, by talking to friends, face to face.

Social sites don’t help with this, which is why this ban (to which I can relate very well) is so interesting:

September 22, 2010 | Christian Guthier

Guns are just things.

Porn is just pictures.
Crack is just a substance.

“Facebook, like so many social tools, is actually primarily about learning. ”
This statment strikes me as absurd and untrue.
Absorbing random bits of information piecemeal is actually the opposite of learning and is, as we are finding out, having a very negative impact on young minds ability to function in reality.

Is information synthesised on facebook or twitter? Are worthwhile discussions ever had?

September 22, 2010 | helen clattenberg

Huge assumptions being made there Helen and Christian. I wonder how much experience you have actually had of these tools or of the way people and kids use them?

Yes those things are just things and can be used for good or ill. Demonising the things without dealing with our issues ducks the issues.

Social tools enable millions of us to meet, build relationships, and have better informed and enriching conversations about all sorts of things.

Otherwise what are we doing now and why did you leave a comment?

September 22, 2010 | Euan

Am not assuming anything, just reporting my direct experience (I work part-time with teenagers – outside the US) and I see that constant distraction and inundation with trivia from electronic impairs cognition (not just while the devices are being used).

Depth of consciousness and patience are learned attributes. Most of us older folk grew up in environments where that was instilled and valued.

The social environment has changed vastly and our teenagers now, will reap the whirlwind.

Of course Social Networks “enable” many positive things, but just because something is “enabled” it does not follow that it actually happens.

Like schools, nightclubs also “enable millions of us to meet, build relationships, and have better informed and enriching conversations about all sorts of things”.

Should schools be converted to nightclubs so that the kids may enrich their minds. communicate, network, bond and “learn” dance moves, chat up routines etc etc?

You first assertion that social tools are about learning, gives a very skewed idea of what learning is.
(Assuming he is adolescent) its natural, that your son is more interested in learning social / romantic skills etc etc, rather than other skills that might be of value later on, but we as parents, I think would serve his generation better, by demonstrating that not all learning has the same value no matter how cool and groovy.

September 22, 2010 | helen clattenberg

Great debate Euan. I do want to also pick up on some points raised by Helen and Christian (thanks for stoking this conversation both).

“The social environment has changed rapidly”. Agreed and if we don’t help to equip our children to learn and thrive in that environment then both we and our schools are abdicating all responsibility as educators for their future well-being. If we don’t teach our children how to use all available resources safely and efficiently – for their own good and the good of wider society – then we set them and society up to fail in what is becoming a true knowledge intensive “attention economy”.

“Depth of consciousness and patience are learned attributes. Most of us older folk grew up in environments where that was instilled and valued”. These are still learned and valued attributes. If ever we needed to help our children learn the power of mindful attention and patience then this is the age. But we must teach them within, not without, the social environment in which they will live otherwise it just won’t stick.  It is interesting to me that some of the most powerful and joyous advocates of “social technology” are those who are already deeply conscious and mindful.  Simply because it provides opportunity for a growing awareness of our infinite and inherent “interdependence” as Ethan Nichtern calls it. Check out Bhuddist Geeks or 21Awake or The Here and Now Project for what is a much more mature and evolved consideration on this:  it is a necessary invitation and opportunity to explore what it means to be conscious and patient within (not outside of) the 21st Century. The aspiration is still the same but our children are growing up in a different time so it must a slightly different question.

“All learning is not equal” but why do we persist in suggesting that we – any of us – know what learning is most relevant and to whom? Even the way we study is being challenged as we learn for example that (as musicians already know) repetition of a single discipline/area of study in discrete chunks does not work well for sustaining retention and cognitive development. Rather, regular short bursts of a range of subjects/tasks/disciplines in one sitting yields much more. Even the recognition that so much of our best learning is social is underpinned by science.  But back to my original point – not all learning is equal/as important as other learning. Agreed, but who is best placed to decide that? We continue to prepare so many of our students for a world we appear not to have noticed is changing in front of our very eyes. The capability to source, discern, synthesise and connect to both information and people (in a mindful and patient manner) are among the key skills we will need for the future. As Steven Berlin Johnson says: “chance favours the connected world”. But it also favours the connected (and skilled) person therein.

If that’s not among the “important stuff” then I worry for our young minds. The Battle of Hastings and long division will only get us so far.

I’m fully behind Euan on this. How we learn/teach should reflect how we understand our young people to live. Without that much learning can (and will) feel redundant and stifling. Like everything else, Facebook isn’t bad, but there are bad users of Facebook. Apparently some of our schools are among them.

September 22, 2010 | Shane Carmichael

I love it when comments are way better than my post! :-)

September 22, 2010 | Euan

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