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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

ON STAYING CONNECTED!

Me pontificating at COTR
UPDATED MARCH 2013
Almost 20 years  ago now Howard Rheingold, one of the pioneers of virtual communities, said that " a tremendous power shift is underway ... this power shift is about people and our ability to connect with each other in new ways... " Speaking at the first Writers' Retreat on Interactive Technology and Equipment conference sponsored by the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University and Emily Carr College of Art and Design, Rheingold noted in 1994 that he was struck by the "citizen-to citizen movement now known as virtual community" popping up everywhere he travelled.

I was at the conference preparing to teach my first Writing for New Media course at College of the Rockies where I was also working on a grad program in New Media Communications launched a year later. Very few people at the time agreed with Rheingold and other internet pioneers who believed as I did that we were embarking on the biggest societal change in communications since the days of Gutenberg and his printing press.

I spoke on the topic of how the Internet could defeat politicians, or help them win,  at an annual conference of the Canadian Association of Journalists in 1995,  and argued, that in due course, it would be a major contributing factor. Interestingly, the old guard in the room vehemently disagreed with me, while campus journalists supported my position.

The old guard, and me, had never heard of Barack Obama in 1995.

Fast forward to now! You don't hear much about virtual communities now, as all the talk is about social networking sites, one of the fastest growing and popular uses of the internet. The power shift has occurred despite the naysayers then and now, because of our need to connect, one with the other, especially because we now live in the world of many-to-many medium as Rheingold also predicted.

Take the popularity of Facebook for example. I joined  at the suggestion of some of my former students, and I extend great thanks to them. I have been able to reconnect with so many people with whom I had lost touch for many years, and catch up on their lives. Facebook is also an example of the success of new media with its convergence of all media to digital forms.

At any given time on Facebook, "friends" are using text, still photos, videos and all kind of cool things to communicate with one another and a broader audience if they wish. One-to-one and many-to-many!!!

However, the communications potential of Facebook and Twitter is not being maximized as far too often it is simply a one-way street. For example, journalists use Twitter primarily in my view to retweet among themselves as part of some mutual admiration society.

While teaching new media at COTR I made many fearless predictions about where we were headed. At times I really didn't have a clue but knew something big was happening. Let me share a couple of examples.

By 1998 at least five of my students were involved in online romances, and if memory serves me right, three had gone off to meet their new loved one. They met in chat rooms.

In my office at COTR
One day in the lab, one student who was deeply involved in chat rooms was pounding away on her computer, when suddenly in a burst of anger rushed from the room, went outside and lit a cigarette. I went out to see what had happened. It turns out that the virtual friend turned out to be a he instead of a she, or vice versa, I just forget, but the emotions were every bit as real as in any budding romance.

Finally, in the COTR library where students had access to computers, they were banned by the powers-that-be from accessing chat rooms, which in those days was the main reason the students wanted to use the computers. To me it was a sure sign that big changes could not be far off. The kids were way ahead in social networking, while the established order wanted to ban them from the practice. Now kids are "tweeting" and "facebooking" -- at least for the moment.

Me in 2011 in Orlando, FL
When I think of it though, my generation liked to pass notes around the classroom to our friends, which of course was forbidden. Now they stay in touch by texting each other on cel phones, and using Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, etc. Plus ca change. Plus c`est la meme chose.

I would love to hear your comments on social networking and its place in your life, and how you enjoy staying connected with others.

1 comment:

Joe Crescenzo said...

Hey Mike,

Great blog! Thanks for helping me out, I really appreciate it.

Best,

Joe

Michael J Morris

Michael J Morris
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