Anyone Want To Have a Real Conversation?

The reason I was drawn to blogs 10 years ago was the raw and natural tone they afforded. No longer publishing was relegated to perfectly edited prose but favored conversational, authentic voices. My recent foray into snapchat is largely about exploring the same thing but perhaps to a greater degree.

Arriving at ISTE for the 8th year in a row, it’s difficult at times not to become jaded. I’m not even talking about the overblown corporate presence but rather the way in which discussions and ideas are void of authenticity. What takes precedence at ISTE and most larger events are buzzwords and platitudes. Sessions that use words like “transform”, tweets that garner retweets because of their catchiness and conversations that lack depth.  Time after time, people will reference the hallway conversations, that for many who are experienced conference goers, mark the best learning. This is true in part because they’re more intimate and further are more authentic. People will speak more openly about struggles. They’ll talk about success and quandaries with humility. They aren’t putting on a show or trying to impress anyone. And yet so much of the online interactions lack any nuance, questioning or depth of thought. The social spaces I used to frequent to see people experiment and play with ideas have turned into something far less interesting.

That’s what fascinates me about snapchat. It’s raw and real. It’s much more difficult to fake. The culture of users expects things to be less polished. There are other spaces to showcase your best work but snapchat isn’t that space. The use of the word “branding” bothers me as it perpetuates the emphasis on carefully managing identity. There’s nothing wrong with that but that mindset has taken a space like twitter and turned it away from many of the casual and social interactions, to one where chats and platitudes dominate the stream.  You might not agree but to me that’s the tragedy of the commons.

It’s also why of late my online interactions have migrated to spaces like Voxer and Slack. Creating closed spaces with people I trust allows me to have the kind of conversations I want to have. Some might say they are echo chambers but those I interact with in those spaces are conscious of this pitfall.  We may not be as diverse as we’d like, but we’re able to have powerful conversations weaving in and out of minutia. In many ways, this is likely a natural progression of moving from networks to communities but it does bother me that those larger spaces seem unaware of the changes. Things like retweeting compliments seem to be ploys to “build their brand”. In addition those whose only activity is autotweeting links make me wonder if they’re really human. I’m not suggesting that’s wrong, but overuse of these kinds of actions have an impact on the overall way we use a space.  I’m not a Reddit user but it seems like a space for more authentic ideas. I also find it interesting that both Reddit and Snapchat have very similar interfaces that lack the elegant design and feel of many social networks. I’m guessing that’s intentional and helps maintain their vision of places where people can be real.

I watched the Ignite sessions today, and they were all very good. For my tastes, they were too good. I’ve done ignite talks in front of large audiences in a big room, and they certainly lend themselves to seeking perfection. You rehearse every word because it’s not the kind of place you want to mess up. I’ve participated in other Ignite style events that not only were less perfect and less scripted but in the end fostered better conversations. That said, I understand why they are different, and it’s mostly a product of the environment and context. But that’s what much of ISTE is to me. I’m also willing to concede that’s just my style and others like it that way.

I’m not abandoning twitter or facebook but will certainly continue to use it in the ways that Howard Rheingold envisioned.



The challenge is to find a place to take that social capital and use it to challenge and provoke deeper, more interesting ideas. While I have more followers than ever on twitter, I feel more alone there than I ever have. 

Snapchat is totally idle chatter.  The classic complaint about social media about not caring what people had for breakfast at the local breakfast downtown Austin spot and the mass amounts of minutia have always interested me. Sometimes your breakfast is important to me. Sometimes they way you share that is fascinating. But mostly you sharing that is a way we build relationships. The unfiltered sharing of yourself indeed builds trust and in the end relationships are our most important job as educators.  In my experience, this is often which the richest learning and conversations begin.

If you want to follow me on snapchat, I certainly follow you back in efforts to see this more unfiltered stories and shares.  And since you’re already here, this is another one of my early snapchat stories. This time it’s my day at Ipadpalooza, which by the way, is one of my favorite events as it tries hard to allow for provocative conversations. It’s about the only place that would accept my session entitled, Airing of Grievances. Thank you Carl Hooker.