Recently people have been surprised at my reticence to rave publicly on stage, in interview or over coffee about social media.
“But”, they cry, “you are so active on twitter”.
To my slight shame I did do an email interview with a kind lady from New York about the Internet, social media and democracy today – but that was because she was nice – not because I considered myself any kind of expert – I just put in my 2pth and I did point out that she should be talking to those with political science degrees who were also active online – rather than me.
I thought it might be easier if I just explain through a story why I feel the way I do.
During the Easter holidays I took my children to Morocco on holiday. I didn’t book online as I had had a disastrous experience doing so previously; and anyway I have a friend who is a whizz travel agent and can always beat any online deal, she knows me and what I like and always comes up trumps. I called her, she emailed me the holiday choices, I emailed back my preference, pay online, get the e-tickets, check in online and we fly away.
Whilst in Morocco, I read books that I had bought on Amazon and go to hotel notice boards to choose the trips we might like to take. I check on my iphone to see whether these trips have been reviewed and find out which ones are the best value and most exciting and appropriate for the girls and I. Excursions chosen, with additional insight from others who have been on them before, I wait for a rep in reception at a designated time to book said trips, talk through in person what is involved, pay by card, and turn up at an agreed time to go on the selected adventure.
On the coach I meet a family who have children with similar ages to mine. Whilst the children bond over their DSs and Facebook stories, I talk to the parents: Rachel and Chris. It is through them that I discover a volcano has erupted (they knew from watching Sky News) and that our journey home might be affected. Having my iphone with me I check the BBC website and call out on twitter for updates.
The information and feedback I could find in a few minutes from twitter on that bus ride intrigued and amused Chris, who was aware of twitter, but not of its value. This triggered a discussion about the world I was involved in with government and digital engagement, that later (months later) leads to me helping him find a value in twitter, simply by monitoring what customers are saying about the brand he works for.
The children become firm friends over the course of the holiday and spend some time on Facebook on our respective smartphones – building new friendships through their own contacts and mates – introducing their friends to each other online as they discover more about their lives and realise connections or common interests, even as we are away. (They also spent 90% of the daylight hours in the pool shrieking with laughter and the occasional spat – whilst us adults snored on loungers with our books from Amazon and blue drinks from the pool bars).
My super travel agent lady, meanwhile, is texting me and emailing updates on what is happening, also following how happy/worried I am from my Facebook updates. Twitter and Facebook keep me sane: I can keep colleagues, friends and family updated on what is happening where we are, and roundly take the inevitable slacker jokes – and can even crowdsource an escape route should we need one.
When we get home, we swop all contact details with Rachel, Chris and family – including home, mobile, Facebook and twitter details. The children, unsurprisingly, are online to each other the minute they all get home and onto Broadband. I share a few texts with Rachel and Chris but we are Facebook friends, so I can see without interacting what fun they are having and vice versa.
We all decide that we should see each other again a few months after the holiday, and so organise over the phone when would be a good date. Thereafter, Facebook planning between the kids went into overdrive – with bemused interception from us grown-ups. Rachel, Chris and I only communicate by phone – but again, we talk about things that we have noted the other is doing from Facebook profiles – which is nice – not stalkery.
A great weekend is had, during which I taught Chris twitter and got him set up; Rachel was not interested but enjoyed seeing what we were discovering through twitter. But it was a balance, real life, windy beaches, lovely food, friendship and stories, yes – some of which were fuelled by Facebook knowledge and inevitable discussions about the value of twitter, sometimes.
A few weeks later and I am running Young Rewired State. Seeing as a centre is based in Norwich, not a million miles away from Rachel and Chris, I get in touch through email to see if I might stay with them for a night so that I can visit the Norwich centre – as well as catch up with them. Again, they knew all about Young Rewired State through Facebook – and the children were now even more close, so it was perfect.
That visit was awesome, and we had a lovely evening talking about real life things as well as events and happenings that we already knew about each other through the third party window of social media.
And so they were a great part of YRS, an extra bonus.
Since then I have been remiss in even looking at Facebook, or catching up with anyone to be honest. Tonight I was struck by a feeling that it was time to have a catch up with Rachel and Chris again. It was an automatic reaction for me to firstly swing by Facebook to see what they had all been up to before I got in touch; for a variety of reasons, mainly to check that they were about, to check that there was not anything dreadful going on that I might interrupt and also to show that I had actually taken notice of what they had chosen to share; it’s a natural etiquette for me now.
Tomorrow I will call Rachel – and confess I have written a blog post about them – and we can all organise the next meet (this will be at mine I think, my turn, Rachel and Chris, no?!)
So, you see, it is not any hatred of social media that makes me yawn when people start asking me to speak about it – it is just that it is such an interwoven part of my life now – and I wouldn’t expect to speak about my use of the telephone (which is dreadful) nor would I particularly like to try to unravel the value of social media. It is a part of life, it is the digital part – but hey, we are all part digital now, whether we like it or not.