I grew up in coffee shops. My family owned a diner coffee shop when I was growing up. To stay connected, we sat at the counter at Lakey’s Cafe, the restaurant my grandparents started, and chatted with the regulars - mostly local farmers - before they set out to work the fields down the road. These conversations were on-going. Every morning at about 7:00 a.m. the regulars would gather at the counter and the chatting would commence.
And people didn’t just talk to other farmers. They chatted it up with Gloria, the waitress who worked in the restaurant for about 30 years. With Gary, the cook, who they could see through the pass-through window. With me, six-year-old kid with the cup of hot cocoa in front of her.
That’s how we stayed in touch.
We made phone calls, too, of course. But that was harder because when I was a kid, we very often had to wait for the neighbors to get off the phone because we shared a party line with them. If you’re not familiar with a party line, it is, according to Oxford Dictionaries
a telephone line or circuit shared by two or more subscribers
Toeing the Party Line...
The reality of this was you could pick up the phone to make a call and hear other people talking on the line as if they were in the next room of your house, just sharing an extension. These were your neighbors. They talked about Aunt Martha’s cancer and their rheumatoid arthritis and their apple butter recipe for the crockpot.
I’m not making this up.
It’s an odd thing to ponder if you really think about it, especially in this day and age when privacy on the web is such a big thing. Hello, Edward Snowden… The idea that someone could actually be listening to your phone conversations by just picking up their home phone is a bit unsettling. But then again, there was nothing stopping you from listening to your neighbors’ call, either, except social politeness and good common sense.
Back in the day, this really was a thing. And you thought it was bad waiting for your siblings to get off the phone so you could call your high school boyfriend…
Now, fast forward 43 years to 2016. You don’t wait for the neighbor to get off the phone. Everyone has a phone of his or her own. Probably more than one. And people don’t just use their phones to communicate. They use them to take pictures, play Angry Birds, and to calculate their taxes.
And phones aren’t the only means of communication now, either. With great regularity we Skype with people around the globe; post our social updates on Facebook; participate in a Twitter chat about gourmet food; and Stumble our way to new and strange horizons. We are a completely mediated, saturated culture.
I bring all of this up not because I want to give you a personal history lesson - (although full disclosure here… I’m feeling completely nostalgic for a home-brewed cup of grandma’s coffee and some homemade pie) - but rather because this story shows exactly why I needed a class in social media. In today’s world of media, it makes sense to learn, or more accurately, for a person to decide where he or she ends and another person begins.
Creating Wonderland Cafe & A Social Media Presence
That’s really the use of taking a social media class like EdTech 543. Not only are you given an opportunity to learn about the different types of social media out there, you are forced to think about how you use it. Because I’m a writer by trade, I knew it was something I needed to do for myself, but until our units on social media policy and digital footprints, I’d never really put it into words.
This was also important because I already had a fairly sizable social-media following coming into the class - 2341 on Twitter and 600+ on Facebook. I knew that if I wanted to take my writing work to the next level (and therefore be seen on a bigger “world” stage), I needed to figure things out ahead of time how I was going to deal with the inevitable challenges that will surely arise. (I use social media to promote my writing.)
And because this unit on social media police asked us to look at how other bigger organizations created their policies, we got a glimpse of what that sort of thing would look like on a grander scale. It definitely helped me as I wrote up my own policies.
Additionally, like most things in the technical realm my social media skills are self-taught. There is an argument for this, of course. A couple actually. Not only are you learning skills that are useful to you in the moment, but you’re learning them as you need them.
The drawback is that you don’t know what you don’t know. In this respect, being introduced to different social media sites as well as the theoretical concepts have helped me. I wouldn’t have even thought about learning about them had I not been asked to. Learning about connectivism, PLNs, and PLEs was particularly helpful for what I do professionally. Being asked to do Twitter chats and webinars was also helpful.
It is with these concepts that that I started to recognize that what I loved about having coffee in my family’s diner could be replicated to some extent online. Social media is, after all, supposed to be social. The downside is that there is no Gloria serving you hot coffee and pie like there was at Lakey’s. The upside is you can bring your own and drink it while you chat with friends and colleagues around the world.
It is with Twitter chatting that I am especially enamored these days. Since that unit ended in EdTech 543, I’ve participated in a number of Twitter chats on my own. In particular, I’ve connected with some foodies online. I skipped a week due to busy-ness, but I plan on getting back to it next week because I’ll be done with school. Much of my writing centers around food and food culture, so this has been a fun endeavor.
The Kitchen... My Favorite Low-Tech Makerspace
On a related note, it was our webinar unit, and more specifically, the webinar that I took on makerspaces, that solidified the food-as-a-writing theme for me. The makerspace project showed me that makerspaces can be low-tech as well as high tech. This was a real revelation for me, truthfully.
While many people work on circuit boards in their makerspaces, the makerspace can be so much more. During the webinar, it was suggested that it’s also okay to introduce items like coloring books and journals. I also figured that the kitchen could be a makerspace. That particular webinar really served to pull a lot of loose ends together.
As we were taught in EdTech 501, there’s always a human, low-tech element to any EdTech venture. The webinar unit and the makerspace reminded me of that once again.
One of the things I didn’t do as much of as I would have like was regularly tweeting. We did have it built into class, but I took the class in part because I thought it might help me develop a tweeting habit. That’s still a bit elusive, but I’m on track. I do know what to tweet about now, and I’ve found some resources that have given me a social-media schedule.
I can’t even say I’m disappointed about this aspect of the class, only because I’m not sure that it was a realistic expectation to have in the first place. If nothing else, the social media units that we did have give me a format to use as I form my own social media calendar as recommended by thewebsite Coschedule.
Life After EdTech 543...
Once school’s out in a week or two, I’ll be able to implement that because I won’t be obligated to a strict school schedule. As was the case when I worked as a newspaper editor, the scheduling of this will take awhile, but once it’s done, my job will be very easy.
One final thing I will say that the class did give me (which I also expected) was a series of blog posts that I could use for events like Monday Blogs, a Twitter chat that my friend, Rachel runs every Monday. She reuses her blogs by doing something similar to what Coschedule recommends in its post on creating a social media schedule. Because I came into the class with this goal in mind, I determined that all of my blog posts should and would be interesting, and not necessarily just because I was being graded for them.
My blog is my main source of contact with my readers. I really want them to feel like they know me and are getting something out of reading my blog. This effort has been worth it both personally and professionally. I’ve gotten several subscribers from keeping this blog over the course of the semester. That’s one thing that I wondered about: Would it be an effective way to connect with people? It’s not coffee at the counter at Lakey’s, but in terms of connecting in the online world, it would be difficult to beat.