March 16, 2009

In Praise of the Pop In

This post was last updated on September 5th, 2011 at 11:04 am

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 The “pop-in” existed because the value of socializing superseded the  busyness and frantic lifestyles that has evolved over the past few years.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.