The annual meeting for the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) just wrapped up in Denver. Educators from around the world are gathered to discuss and plan the future of edtech, play (some), but most of all, meet people. Conferences are great ways to make lasting connections with people...to grow your personal learning network.
Before the conference I had the chance to fly out to Colorado a few days early and spend time with people I had never met. When I told my wife about it she gave me a very puzzled look. Why would I want to go up into the Rocky Mountains with people I don't know and spend several days with them? Because I do know them.
Everyone in our group knew each other from Twitter. Some had met before, others, like me had never met anyone of them. But when we actually met, face to face, it was like old friends getting back together. There was never that awkward feeling that sometimes accompanies these types of events and after just a few hours we were all cutting up and laughing like kids in high school. It was a truly memorable few days.
Then on the Saturday before the conference I got to attend some really amazing sessions at EduBloggerCon and got to shake the hands of some of the educators I admire most. But that got me thinking. While we know each other, we don't know each other. There are some on Twitter that I follow because they are interesting or have good resources. There are others that I follow because I like their conversation. But I might not ever have engaged with them. Or if I have it has been very little.
That got me even more thinking about relationships. Specifically, the relationships we have with the people online. What made the friends in Estes Park different from the ones at EduBloggerCon or the conference itself? And I really do consider everyone I follow and interact with my friends. We are more than colleagues I think. Our relationships are more than that.
Everyone I follow on Twitter adds value to my learning. Everyone I retweet, mention, follow,and engage with adds value to me on both a professional and a personal level. That value can not be measured or evaluated except by me. Yet some out there are trying to devalue what we are creating on Twitter and other social networks. And I struggle with the reason. Is it because what we are doing can't be measured and that bothers some? Or is there some other reason?
There was a very interesting post right before the conference from Scott McLeod about how you never really know that person sitting next to you at a conference. While you might think someone is a rockstar they might really beat their kids or drink too much. Yeah, you might not really know that person sitting next to you. But. Isn't there some level of trust that we place in the people we meet and get to "know" through social media? Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I know there are certain people in my PLN that if I need something, even if it is personal and in no way educational, I can call upon.
I posed the same questions on my blog and out on Twitter. Several people chimed in. Here is just some of what they said:
"I hear where you're coming from - I do believe that almost all of the people in my PLN are my friends. Obviously, some more than others, but what you're saying makes sense. While we don't "see" each other very often, if ever, there's still that sense of community. There are people on Twitter that I converse with more than some of the people in my school - and I consider some good friends. I don't see anything wrong with that. For many. like your wife and mine, they just don't get it. As I said good bye on Wednesday to one of these people, the comment was made, "Well, I guess I won't see you for another year." That's correct, I won't see this person, but we'll chat and continue the relationship weekly until we (probably) see each other next year in Philly."
"I 100% believe that the relationships we make via social media have value. In fact. many of the relations I make via blogging, Twitter, Facebook have MORE value than relationships I have, or people I've met in "real life". There are a lot of people in on my online "PLN" that are more to me than just some online persona or business relationship. They really are friends."
I have thought a lot about this over the past few days. While social media can never replace face-to-face relationships, they can add another dimention to our social lives. I am as close or closer to some of the people I know through Twitter or Ning or my other social networks but there is just something that makes those relationships more meaningful when we meet face-to-face. Those relationships add value to me both professionally and personally and I wouldn't trade them for anything. I am lucky that I got to meet a small handful of members of my PLN and I hope in the future to meet everyone.