Saturday, June 11, 2011

Social Media Mirrors

Warning:  This might have nothing to do with teaching.  This also might have everything to do with it.  I can't decide, yet.

"Has this Living Facebook thing changed the way you view people?" Javi the Hippie asks. 

"I think it's pushing me to see the goodness of humanity in a way that I never saw before."

"I think it's making you a better friend.  You call on the phone.  You send mail.  It's the type of thing people used to do," he says.

"I can see that.  It's forcing me out of my introverted bubble," I explain.

Two days later, when arriving home from giving flair, I notice an e-mail from someone who was hurt by careless words written on my blog.  I immediately edit it, but it's out there in the global sphere, open to anyone interested in reading it.  She recognizes that my words weren't malicious, but it doesn't take the pain away.  I apologize.  We reach a point of reconciliation.  However, it has me second-guessing how personal I choose to be online.  To what extent am I breaking another's privacy when I choose to be transparent?

It's easy to buy into the myth that Control, Alt and V will magically undo what is done.  It's the digital dream of deleting the broken language of a broken man who gets careless and thoughtless.   Social media is just that: social.  Real people.  Real conflict.  Real relationships.  Real hurt.  Real reconciliation.  It's beautiful and it's broken.

My friend Jabiz says that social media is simply a mirror of us.  I'm thinking of myself in the mirror and the notion that what is backwards feels entirely normal to me.  I'm wondering if maybe it's backwards to be more intimate online than I am with my acquaintances.  I'm wondering if it's backwards to wish happy birthday to twenty people I've lost touch with and somehow miss a close friend's birthday.  Then again, maybe it's not the medium that's backwards.  Maybe it's my mentality.

I think again to the medium.  If Facebook is a mirror, it's a carnival mirror, offering a distorted view of myself.  Online I'm smarter, faster to speak, slower to listen.  Online I don't stutter and sputter and laugh too loud.  Or maybe it is an authentic mirror and maybe I'm seeing the distortion first-hand and coming to terms with what I see.

And yet . . . 

Maybe it is a mirror and maybe it gets out of whack when it's bent by careless words or unresolved conflict.  And maybe the beauty of social media is that it becomes a chance to realign the mirror so that we move closer to the authentic, to the real, to the undistorted picture of self that we only hope to see.

Or maybe social media isn't the mirror.  Maybe social media is that place where people around you pull you away from the mirror, reminding you that you are not the illusion that you see before your eyes.  Maybe social media is the chance to call me away from the backward lies that have defined my identity for too long.

"I'm thinking of ditching this project.  I tried so hard not to be cynical.  I tried not to hurt people in the process," I tell Javi.  

"If avoiding hurt is your goal then you've got your priorities all wrong," he warns me.  "Don't you see it?  You're growing closer to people.  You're running into conflict.  You see a sad story of someone you hurt.  I see a story of redemption."  

I step away from the mirror.

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. yeah, i'm of the "this has nothing to do with teaching" camp on this one. save it for your personal blog.

  2. this has everything to do with teaching, especially at a time when students communicate more on social media sites than they do to each other and to us (teachers) in real life and schools still trying to find a way to balance this new idea of communication with what it means to teach and communicate with students and some teachers using social media as another way to take advantage of those they are supposed to teach. it's a mirror alright, but it's also much more!

  3. I enjoy your writing, John. I enjoy how your thoughts and reflections flow to understanding and insight, and further reflection--for me anyways. It's been a brave project. It has made me think about communication, relationships, understanding of our interactions and the barriers, etc. If it has helped you gain insight into teaching and the needs of students and people, then I think it is about teaching...and more.

  4. if we're going to make a difference to kids.. if we want ed to be a vehicle to social change...we need to be more about this...

    I can't decide, yet.

    thanks John.

  5. Social media has ended the viability of school as we know it. So it is not about school. Social media is about how we will learn after we forget about 19th century paradigms.

  6. I think quality thoughts like this are ALWAYS relevant. One of my students this school year will have a moment when they need to hear exactly what Javi told John -- I want to be able to save that day.

  7. I found this quite inquisitive. I subscribe to your blog and looking forward to read more. Bookmarked.

    social media calendar


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