In Praise of the Pop In

Growing up, my parents had a very active social life. A huge part of this involved the “pop-in”.  This  was the spur of the moment visit to friends with simply a quick phone call to say, “we’ll be over in 15 minutes, put the coffee on”, or sometimes just showing up at someone’s house. This worked both ways. I clearly remember sitting quietly, watching television and the doorbell would ring and friends would come over to play cards, have a game of pool or just visit. Mom would dig through cupboards to find something to eat and sometimes all they had was coffee. My memory may not be accurate but this seemed to happen weekly.

Today, we had about 10 friends over for a little pre-birthday party. My wife called people about 3-4 days ahead of time, spent a good part of Saturday and most of Sunday baking, cleaning and getting ready for our guests. We ate well and had a lot of fun. We likely have these types of events more than most people I know but even at that, we don’t do it weekly.

In praise of the pop-in

The pop is a lost art for most of us today.  Socializing for most of us is pretty structured and planned. We check our calendars and plan a meeting, gathering or event weeks, even months in advance. When we get together and have a great time, we say, “we should do this more often”.  That rarely happens.  Our culture has changed. Bowling Alone is a book by Robert Putnam.

Putnam draws on evidence including nearly 500,000 interviews over the last quarter century to show that we sign fewer petitions, belong to fewer organizations that meet, know our neighbors less, meet with friends less frequently, and even socialize with our families less often.

You can think of many reasons why this is but certainly most of us can nod our head in agreement. The “pop-in” existed because the value of socializing superseded the  busyness and frantic lifestyles that has evolved over the past few years. We’ve devalued socialization and traded it for privacy, achievement and money. We’ve lost a great deal of social capital. This social capital served to strengthen relationships. The line we’ve tried to pawn off to ourselves is that it’s about quality, not quantity. I wouldn’t say that’s a load of crap, but it’s not totally truthful.

It’s not about the media, it’s about the social

I apologize because I can’t remember where I read this (probably on twitter, if you read this and said, please let me know) but this is a big deal. It’s not about the media, but the social. We crave to be social.

Twitter is the ultimate pop-in. You can easily jump in when you have a few minutes. Enter a deep conversation, share a piece of trivia, announce an accomplishment or just say hello.  Don’t over think it. If you do, you’ll drive yourself batty.  Socialization is good, it’s right, it’s human. It’s more about quantity than quality.

I recognize many would cite other behaviours and concerns with time spent online but this is the real reason Facebook, Twitter, et al is gaining so much attention and use. While the pundits might argue that folks should be making more face time, for the most part it’s extremely difficult. This media is the natural evolution of society and helps to solve a huge void in people’s lives.

The real reason of course that we use these mediums, is to be together in person. The value of these tiny bite sized interactions is that it strengthens the bond of our relationships and allows our face time to be much more meaningful.

Can schools learn from the pop-in?

I’m going to suggest that the pop-in for our schools is found in serendipity. Serendipitous learning is desperately needed in our schools. Not that we abandon curriculum or structure, that’s good too. But when classrooms cannot make changes on the fly or take advantage of learning opportunities, we cheat our kids.  With classrooms that use media like ustream, skype or even twitter, they afford their students the chance for informal learning to take place. Their classrooms don’t revolve around these tools but the possibility of learning something unexpected exists. I remember teaching 3rd grade and having the teacher and students next door routinely pop in to share something interesting or something they learned. I kept my door open most of the day. Learning was natural and social.

Learning isn’t always sequential or linear. Sometimes we need an injection of serendipity to spark interest and make connections to other curriculum.  When something out of the ordinary happens, we should have the capacity to respond in some way.  When unexpected company arrived, we didn’t panic, we welcomed them in and enjoyed the conversation. No preparation necessary.

With the advancement of distance education, we may soon see a book called, “Learning Alone”.  I don’t want that. However there is an efficiency involved in online learning that is hard to resist or deny. I’ve never want us to move in that direction which is why I ask teachers, what are you doing in your classrooms that will make your students want to come to school?  Social learning may well prove to be the glue that keeps our schools viable.  The pop-in style of social media might be important to maintain and build relationships.

I don’t know if you can take my analogy too far but  my observation as my wife cleaned the house (I helped too but she did the bulk) was that the conversation or fun wasn’t directly related to the cleanliness of our house or the quality of the food. Don’t get me wrong, we had a wonderful evening and the food certainly added to the fun but it wasn’t required, just something nice to do for friends. But I’d be willing to trade this planned gathering for more informal visits with my friends.

I recognize this may not be the most coherent piece of writing but as these ideas rolled around in my brain, I felt I needed to get it out.
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  • Coherent, schmoherent… it worked. I get it. I agree with you. Socializing is more formal. I can’t really say why I think this the case for adults. Certainly we are far busier and work far more hours than five or ten years ago. Maybe that’s just my reality. But for children, I find this trend particularly disturbing. The term “play date” didn’t exist in my world growing up in Missouri. Every day was a play date- from sun up to sun down. We “arranged” the date by walking down the street and knocking on the doors of our friends to drag them out to play with us. More often than not, they were already outside when we walked by anyway.

    A few years back I was lucky enough to hear Richard Louv speak at the NSTA (National Science Teachers) conference in St. Louis. My Louv wrote a book entitled: “Last Child in the Woods: saving our children from nature deficit disorder.” Though the book does a fantastic job of making the case that this is the first generation of kids who are largely divorced from nature, the main thing I remember from his talk was his thoughts on fear.

    I think our previous administration did a lot of damage in creating unnecessary fear among the general public. However, the penetration of media into every fiber of our lives has probably done the largest damage. I say that as a fan of the quick connections made possible by new media. But mass media especially… seize on every single “stranger danger” story and give it days… no weeks… or months of coverage. This, in effect, blows these stories way out of statistical proportion.

    I agree. I miss the informal “pop-in” type of face to face interaction that I grew up with. It truly seemed like a kinder, more innocent time. Perhaps because I was kinder, and more innocent?

    Serendipitous learning is truly inspiring when it happens. Tools like Twitter really have allows this to happen not only for me personally, but for students of my biology class as we tap into the ‘verse on the big screen most every day. Most days, we just see the updates pop up on Twhirl atop anything else we might be looking at… but some days. Some days, we make really cool connections with both ideas and people.

    • Sean,

      Another aspect which you touch on when you say “kinder and more innocent” time is the area of privacy. On the one hand, we are more transparent, on the other hand we are asking people to pay more attention to the data, profiles and content as we fear what may happen.

      Back in the “good ‘ol days”, this wasn’t part of the conversation. People left their doors and cars unlocked and there was a greater degree of trust. The loss of this has also contributed to our more closed, formal approach to socialization.

      You are correct that the media has blown much of this out of proportion. I’m not advocating for ignoring privacy issues, but am looking for ways to build trust and freedom to allow for serendipity and pop-ins to occur. Twitter is a trust building tool in many ways.

  • 100% in agreement with you on this one.

    We (okay I crave) conversations with my friends. Whether it is a quick “arrived alive” or a “we are having a baby” or “my e-mail is down” all of those let me know that my friends are alive and doing well on planet earth. (or at times, I find out that things are not going too well also!) Twitter is my connection to friends I never knew I needed 2 years ago — who have become so important a part of my life today.

    I also agree that more teachers’ doors need to be open — as you mentioned yours was — to not only share ideas, but to let new ideas in as well. I would love to brainstorm ideas on just how to have this happen much more.

    And, thank you for your comment on “Don’t over think it. If you do, you’ll drive yourself batty.” Smiles, I am going to turn that into a poster to put by my desks (at home & at work!!)

    Nice thoughts today, Dean. Thank you for sharing them with us.

    Paul Wood and I were recently talking about meeting for dinner with friends — and the distances both of us have traveled to do so. What we both agreed on, and you did as well, it was the conversations we were seeking. The food was just the perk.

  • Your post was much more coherent than you give it credit for Dean. On a personal note, the timing of your post is very relevant. Yesterday I attended a large family gathering at my uncle’s house, and it goes without saying that everyone had a wonderful time sharing stories, smiles and laughter. As we were leaving almost everyone was saying the same thing: “That was fun, we need to do that more often!” My uncle responded with pretty much exactly what you suggested in your post; he said “If everyone waits for an invitation then we won’t be doing this often; feel free to just drop in!”

    Your point about transfering this philosophy or practice into the classroom was not lost on me. Thank you for challenging my thinking!

  • I am almost 22 years old and I can tell you that you have hit the nail on the head with the lacking of a “pop in” social environment in regards to my experiences. My friends and family always plan where we are going but I don’t think that it has always been this way. I think back to visiting my grandma, and there never used to have to be an appointment for that. But now, everyone seems to be so busy that if you don’t take the time to plan the visit, it most often will not occur… Or is that just what I want to think since I haven’t explored the “pop in” social aspect.
    Today I worked with my mentorship class over wikispaces. Because of this “pop in” learning, the students and I have learnt so much about eachother and our cultures! This type of learning wasn’t planned but as we shared experiences, I believe that it made for a much richer learning environment. Teachers need to provide for opportunities to learn beyond the classroom door. Technology “shrinks the world” and I will use that to an advantage in my teaching career.
    When you talk about learning not being sequential or linear, that is something that I have really learnt a lot about this last semester. All of my classes, especially ecmp 355, has been a process over product class. The building of resources, PLN, and over all knowledge with definitely help in the classroom.
    I enjoyed this post and hope you had a great prebirthday celebration.

    Dionne Hengens last blog post..Hammering out the Tech Tasks

  • I agree with you, Dean, that we crave to be social.

    Nevertheless, I think there’s far more to the “addiction” we may feel (or perceived addiction others might place upon us) than an addiction to our friends.

    Like I said here the other day, personally I think I’m as much addicted to the stream of information – the input, if you will – than any addiction I might feel toward my friends (no offense intended, of course – I’m just trying to be honest here).

    Darren Drapers last blog post..Change, But On A Larger Scale

    • Darren,

      No doubt it’s not one or the other. There is certainly an addictive nature to all of this as I can attest and I’m sure you can as well. I think boyd’s quote simply offers another perspective that is often overlooked when those not involved in using social media begin to challenge. This is rarely a black and white issue.

      I also think that the more we honestly examine and reflect on how and why we are using these mediums, we’ll be better off.

      My main argument here is that when used thoughtfully, these tools help facilitate social.

      It’s not about the media, it’s about the social

      This is the target we should be shooting for.

  • The social aspect of learning at school is missing because it is based on the assembly line. In your last post, you mention that 21 century skills are not really new. Definitely not … see this video from the 1940’s What 21 century and “progressive education” really are trying to do is to reinsert the social back into learning. Not easy in that the notion of learning as a solitary, regimented activity is strongly embedded into many cultures. Both classrooms and books intentionally or unintentionally force the learner to disconnect with the outside world in order to get something from these resources. Thing is… how social can a class of one teacher/adult and 25-40 students be without devolving into chaos? Perhaps one reason the classroom as we know it will not go away easily is simply a question of money.

    However, enter the Internet. While it is resisted by the education establishment, its not going away either. Not only does it provide more than a classroom ever could, it forces new values… networking (even among younger folks), sharing materials and information and yes, socially-based learning. While we webheads of this generation are voices crying in the wilderness, the next generation or two will really make things happen. Hope I live long enough to see it, but its gonna get messy before we find a way to accommodate it on a wide scale.

    One other thing… it is about the socialization rather than the technology (I think I need to put this point in a presentation Im preparing) and for some students, this is a god-send. Im speaking mostly about introverts and socially-challenged-in-real-life 😀 people like me. Students who do not communicate or socialize well due to lousy social skills, not meeting certain “social standards” (like the fat kid) or just plain shy get chances to participate online they never do in a classroom. The Web allows more people to participate in more ways at least right now as many of these factors can be hidden or mitigated. Not only is this a blessing psychologically, as a fan of socio-cultural learning theory, we may now actually be able to put some of these ideas into practice for more than just a few!

    Leigh Thelmadatters last blog post..home

  • Krystal Teale

    Dean, I definitely agree with you on this topic. After reading your blog, I thought about my life and how it revolves around my daily schedules and planning. I rarely have the chance to just “pop-in” and visit friends of family. It always has to be planned and organized to fit everyone’s schedule. My friend and I have been trying to meet up for months and have a visit, but our schedules always conflict. I think her and I have spent more time emailing and messaging each other on Facebook, then we would have if we just had a quick pop-in visit. I feel that we do rely on things like twitter and Facebook to keep in touch and socialize with our friends. It is our way of having those quick visits with each other.
    Also, I agree that teachers should use these tools to create pop-in learning for their students. Why not gather resources and ideas from other teachers and students These social interactions create a rich learning environment, where students become active learners.
    Thanks for the great post!

  • Dean, great post, but I wonder if the reason why the “pop-in” rarely happens these days and that kids have scheduled play dates is because we are living further away from our friends and family? For example, we just went outside and played because we played with the kids on our block. My parents popped in at friends houses because they also happened to live on the block or the next block. I don’t know why this is a dying occurrence.
    Is technology brining us closer together with people we are already friends with (or related to) who live further away or is it simply a symptom (or attempted remedy) of another problem?

    Heather Rosss last blog post..Dunbar’s Number and the Quality of Connections

  • Heather,

    That’s exactly the concept behind “Bowling Alone”. To your question I’d say the answer is yes to both. It’s certainly not a complete solution to a problem but it’s more of an evolution of current societal structure. I’m not going to place a value on whether it’s good or bad but it is what it is. These are ways for us to cope, adjust and create connections. I think they can be extremely good and positive but also can be shallow and meaningless. I think in general, it’s too early to tell but want to be part of making them work for good.

  • Thanks Dean. Your story of the pop-in visits brought back memories. Must admit my folks participated more in unplanned social visits than I do (well, hardly at all). Putnam’s book is one that I’ve been promising myself to get to… We have become less social and some blame it on technology. Yet I agree that through venues like Twitter, it’s the friends that matter and not the technology. Twitter is addictive, I suppose, probably because it’s fun.

    Paul Kolenicks last blog post..On opening up education

  • Funny, isn’t it, that while our circle of “friends” has widened tremendously through Social Networking, that the number of people we interact with face to face is simultaneously contracting. In terms of education and professional connections, your thoughts bring to mind Bud Hunt’s discussions on The Lie of Community.

    I also wonder about the implications for students and social development; something that Isaac Asimov pondered in his short story “The Fun They Had.”

    Being global is good, but not if it comes at the expense of the connections to our local community. Hopefully, we remember that the pendulum doesn’t have to swing to either extreme to succeed.

    Michelle Bourgeoiss last blog post..Conversation Starters

  • I remember these pop-in visits as common occurrences when I was growing up. They also happened before I moved here where I have no near neighbors. In our last neighborhood, there were certain friends in the neighborhood or people from church who lived a few blocks away that we could pop in and visit while out for a walk. The children also played with each other spontaneously as they had time.

    I think what changed this is that few people stay home anymore and children’s schedules are packed with lessons and structured sports. Whereas they used to play pick-up games in the street, now they have organized sports teams. Now parents are busy taxiing their children to these events and are on the road almost more than they are home. Many families don’t even have dinner together these days or socialize much within the family because of the hectic schedules.

    Another thing that has changed is the lurking danger parents believe threaten their children. They are afraid to even let them walk to school alone because of gangs, child molesters, bullies, etc. Gangs were unknown when I grew up and I often walked a mile to school happily alone or with a friend. We sometimes stayed off the bus in high school to walk home with friends just so we could talk longer. When we got home, we’d pick up the phone and talk as long as our parents would let us tie up the line. No cell phones then!

    I miss those pop-in visits, but popping in now would probably be considered an intrusion to many. Today Facebook is a sort of substitute. It helps me keep up with church friends I see only once a week, or with friends who have moved away. When we we do meet in person, we have more to talk about. Twitter seems more disconnected. It’s a great source of information, but it’s not really a tool conducive to developing deeper relationships. What can you really say in 140 characters in public to help a relationship grow? Facebook allows one to share pictures, have longer conversations — public or private, and keeps threads connected so you aren’t left guessing which question someone is answering. Human face-to-face interaction, though, is still the best, and our busy schedules and constant connection to the digital world is making it quite rare.

    Barbara Radisavljevics last blog post..Are Books Important — or Just Stories?

  • Dave

    I think Heather Ross’s comment is great: technology has made it easier for us to stay attached to people who are farther away. I don’t know anyone who lives in my apartment complex, but I know lots of random folks in the greater metro area that I’ve met online or maintained friendships with using online tools and cell phones.

    The unfortunate part of realizing how fun it is to be social is that it takes two to tango. When I try to strike up a conversation with a stranger, most people seem to write me off as a freak.

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