What a year 2007 was … there was a Cambrian Explosion of technology or better still a sort ofGreat Ordovician Diversification Event (GOBE) — there were so many different things emerging from the bubbling web primordial soup. Where the Internet had connected computers now the web was connecting people — revolution and change was in the air there was a big explosion of social networks.
“The Web does not just connect machines, it connects people” ~ Tim Berners Lee
After more than a decade of mundane and mediocre Microsoft monopoly there were new kids on the block — there was a lot of experimentation and IT was getting exciting again. I was buzzing with excitement and joined Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Linkedin and Youtube as well as Blogger, Flickr, Delicious, Second Life, Netvibes and Page Flakes and a whole lot of other things like Google Docs, Google Pages and Zoho Docs and somehow managed to do all of these things at the same time.
That anyone could write the web and not just read it was a revolution — I felt empowered and I loved the freedom and openness of it all.
I published my IT strategy openly on the web as a blog for comment — Miles Metcalf commented from China that I use the word change rather than re-engineer … using engineer just showed my IT background but I totally “got it” and understood the change. I started a work related IT services Twitter account, Google Page and Facebook Group for IT Services.
I started video blogging on Youtube blog and started re-engineering our network to accommodate guest devices and social media. “The Network is Our Computer” was my philosophy and my mission — the computer network had support computers and people.
I was an evangelist for the new era of web 2, cloud and social — initiating, supporting and participating countless projects with teachers and learners. I was the head of IT promoting social networks for teaching and learning arguing against the staff trying to block Facebook from classrooms. “Use their weapons against them” was the unfortunate phrase I ended up using with teachers who wanted to block Youtube .. as I could see how effective the “weapons” of social media could be.
I am a psychologist, a teacher and a technologist — all these things came together with social networks and education and I experienced first hand by teaching students how powerful social networks are in engaging students — using blogs, Youtube, Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook instead of essays to engage students. Teaching, learning and education became exciting … when lessons ended students wanted to carry on with what they were doing — making blog pages, Google pages, Facebook posts and Youtube videos. Rather than just “stand and deliver” we could flip learning and develop peer learning — having students research and create content on-line anywhere and use social nets to peer review work. I remember one project where business students were asked to research the impact of the “front of house” on a business and then make Youtube videos for peer discussion in class — students went off in groups and created all sorts of format from Fawlty Towers to Newsnight.
We engaged everyone and all subjects, it was inclusive — higher education, special needs, foundation and pre-entry, ESL — social networks were especially useful for students outside the college such as those on work placement. An especially effective technique was the student eAmbassador and what I call “true flip learning” … social networks were a thing for young people and it was empowering for them to teach staff how to use it — students felt important, it boosted their self esteem but it took open and confident teachers to do this.
Web, social and mobile were coming together at speed in a combinatorial explosion of possibilities. In 2004 Tim O’Reilly described the changes taking places on-line as Web 2.0, and in 2009 there were a new set of changes taking place but the term Web 3.0 just didn’t capture it so Tim O’Reilly and John Battelle coined the term Web Squared for the exponential change “when web meets world”. This was the future, it was changing fast and it was exciting. Oh how we marvelled at the exponential growth in Facebook users and Youtube hours uploaded every minute — Facebook was the size of nation states and it would eventually eat the world.
These were the innocent and happy childhood days of social networks and while we would love to stay childish forever it is the nature of things to change. Rather than the web meeting the world the world met the web. Social networks “crossed the chasm”, went mainstream and social networks became social media platforms — stages for all human life both good and bad to play out along with big business, politics and power.
There was a revolution and by 2012 the wheel had turned full circle — we were back where we started.
In 2008 Jonathan Zittrain saw the writing on the web walls and wrote about “The Future of the Internet” and by 2012 Anil Dash talked about “The Web We Lost” and Bruce Sterling said It Stopped Making Sense to Talk About ‘The Internet’.
The land of milk and honey had started turning sour — the network was being monetised to sell people and weaponised by those in power.
The crunch time came in 2013, Edward Snowden showed us “the dark side of the moon” and the extent of “big brother” surveillance and in 2014 Tim Berners-Lee warned “How the web lost its way — and its founding principles”
A new generation of the web and social networks went underground into the dark and new diverse explosion of personal, ephemeral and encrypted communications tech became “the new thing” — Gimpse, Blink, Wickr, Signal, Telegram and Snapchat for example. The open web was disappearing behind walls. At the same time established social networks became . well established … colleges and employers were using them and using them to “spy” on students … why would students want to use Facebook now anyway.
Clay Shirky was a long time advocate for students to bring laptops, tablets and phones into class and use them, the web and social media at will but in 2014 he told students to put them away.
“Allowing laptop use in class is like allowing boombox use in class — it lets each person choose whether to degrade the experience of those around them.”
This was a real wake up call for me and I had to re-examine my whole philosophy in light of how the web and social networks had changed.
I was on the rebound from technology — from being one of the “hyper-connected” I appreciated, enjoyed and advocated being off-line and off-grid — it was refreshing. Leading by example gave lessons, presentations and lectures without tech at all — I used to quote John Hagel “I must apologies for not having any Powerpoint slides” :) By putting away my own tech I found a new engagement with students — there was more interaction, discussion and questioning … it was like rediscovering teaching all over again.
Disconnecting from the virtual world let me connect with the real world … we get so busy having to take a share a photo or video for on-line presence we lose presence in the real world. I often went out deliberately “naked” without tech … just old fashioned cash, no smartphone or even a watch — I was on the rebound, like a an alcoholic not wanting to touch a drop.
There is a need for balance, “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water” there is a lot of good in social media but given the way it has changed Howard Rheingold’s Crap Detection 101 is more useful now than ever.
Technology today is different from that of 2007 … smartphones are not as intrusive as PCs and laptops and used in the right way they are super effective in education. Stepping away from the education tech capture of “stand and deliver” “death by powerpoint” or the back to teacher face to the machine of the standard IT suite and into a less tech intrusive environment with mobiles is quite exposing but super refreshing and helps facilitate multiple forms of pedagogy and a more Socratic method if you like that type of thing.
So, here I am in 2017 .. 10 years on from the last major tech revolution and waiting for the wheel to turn again and history to repeat … will there be a “next big thing” and what will it be? Old technologies never die … they just fade away … all the old technologies are still part of my life — mixed up together. I have seen the early users of social networks jump ship looking for “the way we were” … many going to Medium and the blogger community there, many others going to Mastadon (Like Twitter, Except Way More Civil). The openness of Twitter causes problems but I still like it.
I have always treated my on-line presence as a singularity — I put everything into Twitter and feed this automatically into Facebook using the Facebook Twitter app and post the most of the same items into Linkedin. I have been treating each social network the same all these years and don’t really want to change but I may get more out of them if I use them differently. I will keep putting everything into Twitter. I have been trimming my network on Facebook to those people I actually know — I’m thinking of breaking the link to twitter and using Facebook as a social network … there is more conversation on there than Twitter anyway. Linkedin is the most civil and professional but less interesting and rather self aggrandising … I might start “mis-behaving” and put more political and controversial posts into it just to see what happens :) G+ is a bit of a ghost town … I mostly only post things about Google into it these days and I’m seriously thinking of not bothering but a few people I know use this and not other networks so its useful to keep this going at least a bit. Because no one uses it much G+ is a good social network for education … there is no worry about it getting mixed up with personal life and it links well with Google’s education stuff.
I’m not sure if there will be a social media\network next big thing … I think all the variations on this have been played out and that we have to use what we have but probably change and adjust how we use them — we have woken up we just need to #staywoke.