Monday, July 21, 2008

You've Got to Have 'Friends'

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 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.


dedra said...


This a great blog and something that only social networking people truly understand. I have only recently joined the SN world. Last year I tried twitter after a DEN conference, but just didn’t feel connected. After the NECC hype about Plurk I decided to jump in. I found friends via a Teach42 and have been amazed at the people I have “befriended.” The levels of discussions vary from extremely educational to supportive and fun in nature. I have loved learning and laughing (ok teasing) online this summer. But the thing that has amazed me the most is how I do feel connected to some of these people! I now REALLY get how teens can just roll their eyes when parents and teachers teach and lecture about no f2f meetings with strangers. We have to find another way to communicate “stranger danger” with them when talking about online friendships. As for me personally, I know my life will get busy in August and I will have to step away from SN more. I hope when I find my way back, my friends will still be there. I do know that anytime TJ meets another educator named “dedra” he will immediately think of the good natured fun we have had online this summer and wonder “Is that my dedra?”

Your Plurk buddy- “dedra”

Lori Feldman said...

I stumbled upon the social networking wave during SD in April. My first experience was with Twitter. I have found many useful connections for use with students and staff. When Twitter's whale surfaced on a regular basis I found Plurk. It took a while to "get it" but now I am thrilled. Aside from the professional resources posted I have found many kind ears to listen to my 140 character statements of my life. Believe it or not educators have family lives just like mine! So, thank you for your insight into this amazing venue!

Enigmatic Teacher said...

I think I have a different perspective about online relationships that most of the people I talk to now on Plurk, et. al. I jumped into the social aspect of the Internet early on, becoming a chat room regular back in 1996. I've had some kind of personal webpage or blog ever since. I understood the stigma towards online social interaction a decade ago, but frankly I'm surprised and a little disturbed by how much of that stigma still lingers today.

I've talked to literally hundreds of people online, and the majority of them I've never met f2f and probably never will. But I have met a few, and overwhelmingly their "real" personality has not differed from their online "persona." This includes most importantly my wife, whom I met through the blogging site Xanga six years ago.

Dangers are lurking, but dangerous people lurk in all avenues of life. I think the danger of encountering people online who pretend to be someone or something they aren't with malicious intent is real, but is greatly overhyped by the media and blown considerably out of its real proportion.

Since I obviously have a personal interest in the manner, I take it personally when people speak dismissively of online friendships and say that you don't "know" who you're talking to. Such statements truly bug me. How much do you really "know" the people you see everyday? Who among us has not encountered a colleague who was nice to our face and worked to undermine us behind our back? I believe with 100% faith that I KNOW several of my online friends better than I KNOW some of the people I see five days a week for nine-plus months of the year.

And like you, the fellow educators I have found on Plurk, generally speaking, are more helpful to me-- and more genuinely desiring to help-- than most of the colleagues in my "real life."

I could go on about this but let me just end with-- great post, and I will continue to follow your blog, and befriend you on Plurk (I'm jasonwrites there).

mindelei said...

I have been in and out of social networking over the years. Like enigmatic teacher, I met my husband online in a chat room years ago (we'll be celebrating our 9th anniversary this coming December).

Online interactions have become more acceptable to us because we combine technology with our non-online interactions these days. The fact that we email our real-life friends makes it more digestible that we communicate with individuals that we haven't met face-to-face, yet *know* rather well. I think that part of the reason that we gravitate toward these online friendships/relationships/etc. is because there is also a sense of ease about it. If I don't get along with someone, I don't have to see them daily as I might in "real life". Because of that, I think there are more people who are willing to express their true nature. It's all very fascinating.

Lisa Parisi said...

I do understand, TJ, what you are saying about helping children deal with internet safety when we seemingly break all the rules. My own 12 year old daughter has seen me give out my phone number to online friends in order to talk further. She has participated in skype conversations with some of my online friends. And she watched my excitement about NECC, knowing that I was going to come face to face with so many of these online "strangers" (one of whom I actually roomed with at NECC). Now she is around watching me set up a meeting with two friends who didn't make it to NECC. She, on the other hand, is constantly hearing from me that she shouldn't be giving out any personal information. Even so, she just set up a meeting at the local mall with a group of people, one of whom was an online friend (stranger). I worried. Then I let her go. I was with her when she and her school friends made the connection and watched them connect the way I connected with people at NECC. I guess it is all we can hope for.

TJ Shay said...

Thanks for the comments so far. I think I might need to try to clarify my main point.

The main point I was trying to make was I understand how students can feel like they "know" someone they have met online without the face to face!

Sometimes I run on and on and the point is hidden. My intention was not about stranger danger, but I think there might still be some implications there.

Like most bloggers, I LOVE comments! Please keep them coming.

honeymic said...

I enjoyed your post and am honored to be included! I have had so much fun getting to know (and teasing) you and so many other great people in what I'm calling "my summer of Plurk." I think your post is very insightful and timely. I have recently been percolating thoughts along a similar line. I think it's okay to be a bit of a hypocrite at times when parenting. My first car didn't even have working seat belts, but I feel guilt free preaching to my son to buckle up because it might keep him safe. My son has been on-line most of his life. Little by little we have let him explore more and more within limits. We still have some rules he considers unreasonable (so they must be good) like no taking the laptop to a private room. We still join sites like Facebook to keep an eye on him but don't check up on him every day. Neither will I be riding in the back seat every night when he starts to drive by himself next year. (Although we are considering that camera thing.) I hope we've raised him with solid morals and the ability to be a critical thinker. Although we don't consider ourselves 'done" I think he needs to have the freedom required to keep learning lessons so that he won't make the big mistakes that will haunt him in a few years when he really is on his own. He has just started his second SN site with a friend his own age. As a moderator HE has to decide what is appropriate. That's probably taught him more about posting (and grammar) than anything his dad or I have said. Anyway thanks for your post. Plurk really has helped me understand how he can be "glued to that computer screen" for hours on end.

Kate Olson said...

Love this post! I talk often about people I know online, and have just started calling my nearest and dearest "friends", the same as if I had met them at a coffee shop or a playgroup. No difference to me anymore whether we EVER meet face-to-face, actually. People do look at me funny when I tell them that a edtech (male) counterpart (who I HAVE met face-to-face) and I "met online" - it just brings up the whole scenario to most people :-)

diane said...

O.K. Friend, you prodded me to finally post about friendships, virtual and "real".

Very nice posting - thank you!

eplybon said...

Like enigmatic teacher, I have been in the social web since the 1990s. I think that you really made the right connection - we can begin to understand how our students can feel like they know someone - now what do we do with that knowledge?

Since I've been on the scene for so long, I tend to think that I have somekind of extrasensory perception when it comes to determining who I am really communicating with online - I am even married one of my online friends! However, I think that is it always very important to remember that, just as with "real life" communications, people need to have good judgment and not just assume that everyone out there is trustworthy and really who they say they are.

How does all this translate to my students? When I taught at a one-to-one school, I'd have entire class periods where I attempted to convince my students there are dangers and I also tried to convince them that their spring break pictures on the web are basically there forever and if they don't want grandma (or grandchildren someday) seeing them, they shouldn't put them out there.

It's all about awareness in the end!

TJ Shay said...

Thanks to everyone for responding! This has been a very enlightening discussion! Keep sharing and commenting. You are the best.

Linda said...

Well as someone who teaches a language for communication purposes-I fully encourage my students to connect with people they probably will never meet face to face. International friendships tend to be that way. I never think I don't know the people I interact with online-I think I know them in a more intellectual way since we have had real discussions of topics relating to our profession that we have all gained something from. I can honestly say that many of my colleagues aren't engaging in these discussions in the staff lounge or other venue. I think you were right on to feel a validation from your network-we value you and the insight you bring to our corner of twitter/plurk. And you promised to sing at my cyber-nuptials too!

SherryC said...


I have learned some valuable lessons from Twitter and Plurk as well. I have made some very amazing friends online. I have "forgotten" that I don't "know" all my online friends though. I think I have come on too strong at least once and put someone off that I followed on Twitter. I am trying to be more careful now to control my overly enthusiastic personality.

I think it is easy to be very supportive to our online friends. We have nothing to lose. There is no competition. Unfortunately, there is sometimes competition between colleagues. It isn't something I understand, but something I have experienced.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and giving us a forum to discuss this!

One of your new Plurk friends!