I happened to read George’s blog post about his grandmother passing while he was far away, on an evening where I skimmed around the course blogs and comments, looking myself for some connection.
I’ve come to the conclusion that the weak ties we have, the catch-as-catch-can communications both made possible and encouraged by web interaction, are most appropriate for when in-person contact is not feasible. I didn’t used to believe this. I used to think those connections to be not only adequate, but in some ways preferable, to sharing physical space. I would pester my non-internet-using friends to go online, chat with me, meet me online. I do that less these days. I would get frustrated that the faculty I work with always want in-person workshops about online teaching, instead of meeting online. I’ll let go of that better now. Even today a colleague requested a phone conversation instead of emailing on a subject, and I saw his point.
In sharing my views about the necessity of physical learning space in the Moodle forum, I mentioned that the students who do best online are those who are comfortable in the web environment already, have some self-motivation, and need to be there instead of an on-site classroom for a reason other than mere convenience. Perhaps this is true of non-students too: the web is where we go when we cannot find the connections we need near us, when our friends are not nearby.
I’ve “lived online” for a number of years now. I have gained much support both from people I’ve met on the web and from people I know in “real life” with whom I communicate online. But I am often left wanting to know someone better, instead of just knowing that person through the artifacts s/he chooses to share. I share my artifacts very selectively, and since in real life I am hard to get to know, it would be even harder to get to know me online. The personal support I’ve both given and received has been very context-specific, based on a particular event or interaction, very weakly tied. I’m pretty sure that isn’t the same thing as being someone’s “friend” (a word that has been corrupted by the online services).
Professionally and intellectually all this is great. But I think after this class is over, the blogs I’ll come back to, the people I want to know better, may not be the ones whose work stretches my intellect or changes my approach to work, although those were the connections I initially hoped to make. They may be the ones, like Ruth Demitroff, with much wiser things to say. They may be the ones posting beautiful pictures of their walk in the woods with their dog. And the things I’ll treasure will be things like Ed’s whiskey haikus, Ken’s bizarre satires, and Mike’s visiting with me in Second Life and playing guitar on video.
This surprises me, because I’ve gotten such a rush out of all the reading and writing, the intellectual discourse, and the creativity (however restricted inside these still-primitive technologies and the confines of the class itself). But living inside the net with this intensity, doing this class, has taught me a lot, and they weren’t the things I intended to learn.