Monday, July 21, 2008
In the middle of dispensing advice on evening dinner plans to my friends, Michele and Kevin, I realized that I have no business giving them advice....You see, I have never met them! I have been dispensing advice and pearls of wisdom to great people like Michele, Kevin, Ben, and Dedra on Plurk. I think I know them from their online persona, but we have never had the pleasure of meeting. I also have 'met' wonderful people on Twitter like Diane, Linda, Lee, Dee, Cossandra, Sylvia, Andrea, and many others. I consider them all great friends....But, the thing is, I have only met Diane and Sylvia face to face. I have shared a part of my summer and life with these wonderful strangers, but do I really know them? Tonight, it occurred to me that perhaps this is how my students feel about people they have met on social networks like My Space. They are probably sure they 'know' someone, even if they haven't met.
I started a conversation on Plurk when this epiphany first hit and had some very interesting responses. A common one was, "but we are all in the same profession." Which is true....as far as we know. You can imagine that a clever person can be whomever they want to be on a social network....Just as a student might befriend someone that is not who they say they are. I am not delving in to the stranger danger or the whole fear mongering angle. Studies show that most crime that comes from Internet relationships is in fact a person that the student has let into their lives. If you look at your online relationships, would you be thrilled with you child or your students spending hours of time talking to complete strangers and sharing personal information?
I do not regret any relationship I have made online. I have learned the fierce protection of Diane and Linda when I got some rude messages from an adult bully. Firsthand support was mine when I blogged about how to know when to give up blogging. I learned from Dedra and Michele, that people online can pick on me like the people in my real life (Especially Dedra!). Mostly, I have learned that the online people are far more supportive than most of my school colleagues. Not that the people I work with are bad people, they are just not as 'in' to the technology world as I am. Most are not as driven to change the world of education. I originally started doing Twitter so I would know a few people when I went to NECC. I got to make some new friends, like Kat. I am hoping next year in D.C. I will be able to meet many more!
There is no judgment intended in this post. I am NOT sorry that I have met a lot of friends I have yet to meet in real life.... I think I just understand the connection kids might feel when they are online, finding people who have interests that are similar to their own. Perhaps the freedom of not being encumbered by the awkwardness of a social situation or their physical appearance is as enticing for them as it is for us. I believe we need to think about this and use it in our discussions with students. Not sharing the personal details of our online relationships, but we can shape the ideas we share by the knowledge that a life online can be very intense and satisfying, but there is risk and they must be careful with who they allow into their life.
Early on in my Twitter experiences, I was telling my wife how I was talking to Diane, whom I called, "this person I know from Twitter." My wife said, "you don't know her." Which I took as an admonition of the time I had been spending online and not as the prophetic words they turned out to be. Man, I hate it when she is right!
Thanks to everyone who has been part of my online life! I look forward to your comments.
Posted by TJ Shay at 8:45 AM