Sunday, May 29, 2011

Living Facebook Experiment: Embracing the Tactile

by John T. Spencer - A Reflection on the Living Facebook Experiment

I could spend an entire day living in my mind.  Give me a day off at Starbucks and I'm good.  On some level, I could spend an entire lifetime avoiding the terrestrial here and now.  Let me blog and write, listen to Sufjan Stevens and speak in front of people.  I can debate ideas, tell stories and ask hard questions.  I can join chats on Twitter, post quirky updates on Facebook and manage life from a fourteen inch screen.  Not only can I live this way, but often times I do live this way.  And the crazy thing is that people reward me for it with a virtual thumbs-up or a retweet.

The Living Facebook Experiment (does it need to be a proper noun when what we are doing often feels so overtly improper?)  forces me to engage in social interaction with my real voice and my two hands.  Whether I'm writing on a window (it's a long story regarding why we avoided walls), scribbling intant messages on a church sermon handout or pulling plants in our Suburban Farmville, I'm stuck with real-time and real-space and all the insecurities that go with it.

On one level, the experience is humbling. I have clumsy hands.  Okay, not entirely.  I can sketch and paint.  But it's not effortless.  It's not as simple as dreaming up an imaginary fantasy land for a novel.  The tactile side of life always feels slower and more prone to mistakes.  And that's why I need to relearn the importance of the five senses.

On another level, it's liberating. It's fun.  I forgot the feeling of sliding a letter into an envelope, licking the nasty glue and sliding the note into the mailbox, thus sealing its fate forever.  I forgot what it was like to use an Expo marker, not to illustrate a social studies concept, but to draw a virtual cigar or cup of coffee.

I need to live with my hands.  I need to learn to look and to smell and to listen.  I need to remember that life does not happen virtually.  So, do I abandon the online vapor me?  Do I keep away from social media and instead pursue social interaction?

It doesn't have to be either/or.  In fact, it shouldn't be either / or.  It is deeply human to pursue the imago, to live in the mind and to dream up fantastical ideas that may, at some point hit the terrestrial terrain before our eyes.  And yet, we are of the land and in the land.  Sometimes I forget that there is more complexity in the dirt between my finger nails than in the entire programing of my iPad.

John T. Spencer is a teacher in Phoenix, AZ who blogs at Education Rethink.  He recently finished two books, Pencil Me In, an allegory for educational technology and Drawn Into Danger, a fictional memoir of a superhero. You can connect with him on Twitter @johntspencer


  1. I love the project! How this hasn't gone viral, I can't figure out. Why isn't anyone tweeting this / blogging this / posting this? It's a genius project, John. Keep us posted on your reflections.

  2. I have been following your experiment blog. AWESOME!
    I have shared your story with my readers. Thank you!

  3. It's a genius project, John. retain us posted in your
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