The Five Phases of Being Connected

Matt Miller wrote a great post about phases of using Twitter (through a quarterback metaphor). So, I thought I would share my own journey. 

The other day, I found myself lamenting on the way Twitter feels. “It’s not what it used to be,” I pointed out.

“It’s become toxic,” he said, pointing to examples of ridiculous misunderstandings, bold statements about what people should or should not post, trite fluff being retweeted left and right, and skirmishes about copyright.

But as we began talking, I remembered the metaphor we were first engaging with the education community on Twitter. We all pretty much compared it to a cocktail party. Maybe the cocktail party has gotten out of hand. Or maybe Twitter has become more like a street corner overrun by hooligans.

Or maybe not.

I started thinking about the conversations I had six years ago. They were loud. They were contentious. They were the conversations that challenged my thinking — even when they lacked nuance. At the same time, there were the hyper-professional tweets and the brand-building and the app-smashing and . . . pretty much everything else you see on Twitter right now.

So what changed?

In my case, the initial cocktail party meet-and-greet led to a few close relationships. We’ve become friends. We’ve become partners on big creative projects. Twitter is still there, still functioning as an amazing meet-and-greet. But I’m there less often because the nature of the relationships has changed.

So, it has me thinking about phases I’ve gone through in being a connected educator (feel free to mock me for using that term):

Phase One: The Meet-and-Greet

I first checked out Twitter because someone somewhere told me it was a good idea for bloggers. So, I figured I might as well check it out. In this phase, Twitter functioned as a cocktail party and I felt bewildered and confused. Why were people using the @ symbol? Whey were people using the pound sign all the time? How did the conversations work? Why were people talking to each other when they barely knew each other? I was lost until a few people went out of their way to welcome me.

Phase Two: A Place to Hangout

After awhile, I began coming back to Twitter. I began to recognize people. I started looking forward to chats. If it had begun as a meet-and-greet, being connected now felt like showing up to this place where everyone knew my name (not really, but I just wanted a thinly veiled reference to Cheers). Or, better yet, it was like a staff lounge where no one complained about kids. As I engaged in conversations, I started shifting to the next phase.

Phase Three: A Personal Learning Network

I remember a time when my network was small enough and active enough that I could post a question like, “What is the best way to teach linear equations?” and get an answer from ten different folks on #mathchat. I loved the access to experts in so many different fields. It was more than that, though. I loved the conversations we had. Sure, some of them now seem repetitive. But here’s the thing: they felt new and fresh and different to me. We could talk about rethinking assessment or getting rid of homework. So, it wasn’t simply a place to get practical ideas. It was also a place to hash out ideas and experience important paradigm shifts.

However, I began to experience some of the limitations of Twitter. I started seeing the darker side of groups ganging up on each other. I started realizing that some of my most retweeted tweets were insipid one-liners with little meaning behind them. I also had a thirst for deeper connections. I wanted a safe place to be vulnerable and that’s tough to do in 140 characters. I started meeting certain people at conferences and following up with them later on Google Hangouts. We eventually grew into friends.

Phase Four: A Community

As these friendships grew, I found myself being vulnerable. A Sports Vox Group gradually transformed from a silly place to talk about football into a place where I could share what was really going on in my life. And many of those people are now a part of a running group (where we keep each other accountable to stay healthy) and a blogging group. The categories are almost irrelevant. We’re friends sharing life together. We had grown into friends in the last phase but now we had a shared space and a shared vision.

In my case, I found that Voxer works best for a few reasons:

  • the closed nature makes it more intimate, meaning I don’t have to worry about how thousands of people might interpret a single sentence
  • the lack of 140 character limit means we can talk naturally
  • the addition of audio means I get to hear the people around me

I guess what it comes down to is this: when I want to publish my thoughts to the world, I blog. And, though blogging has social elements (like commenting) the focus is largely on publishing. Voxer, by contrast, feels more like a social space that I inhabit. It has more of a sense of proximity.

Phase Five: Making Stuff Together

Being connected is now less about broadcasting bold ideas to the world and more about making stuff together. It’s how I ended up co-creating Write About with Brad Wilson. It’s how I ended up doing a podcast with AJ Juliani. It’s why I’ve been co-writing books with Pernille Ripp and Trevor Muir. A few years ago, I needed to talk about what I believed. I needed to experience paradigm shifts. But now I’m at a place where I’d rather focus on solutions. I’d rather make something that a teacher might be able to use.

I still hangout on Twitter. The cocktail party is fun. But I don’t find myself drawn to it as often. The relationships have changed. I’ve changed. And that’s okay.

This is why I ultimately won’t criticize Twitter. I won’t mock chats. I won’t say that a person should use it more personally or professionally. We’re all trying to figure out what it means to be connected. No, scratch that. We’re all trying to figure out what it means to connect — in life and online.


If you enjoyed this post and your curious about this topic, feel free to consider the following:

John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.

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