Table of Contents:
- Part 1: I'm headed to Silicon Valley for context.
- Part 2: I'll mention a famous blogger unexpectedly kicking the habit.
- Part 3: I'll to a larger point about backchanneling at conferences. This will lead to how the choices we make really do define us, regardless of what the tools may allow us to do.
Note: Pt. 3 is the key part if you skip the rest.
- Part 4: Finally, I'll go off on a personal tangent leaning towards action.
Part 1: Silicon Valley
If you know Jason, that's intriguing, impressive, or perhaps -- to some -- just an example of showmanship. If you don't know of Jason, it may help to know that Jason co-founded Weblogs (one of the true giants in the new era of digital self-publishing world), has been on the cover of Forbes because of his social media leadership/instincts, etc..
Part 2: The Epiphany
In other words, this is a guy built on blogging...
...and yet he's quitting.
While the center of his current career is based at Mahalo, a human-powered search engine hoping to take a small bite out of Google's info-search business model, it is the new e-newsletter he's sending out that has most caught my attention. Most importantly, the one that just arrived with the seemingly saccharine title, "How To Host An Amazing Conference" (subscription required).
Most of what Jason talks about is pretty solid strategic thinking from the vantage point of organizing the event for maximum impact/value.
Part 3: "Turn off the Backchannel"
One point -- no. 13, to be specific -- seems to transcend the conference planning landscape, suggesting something that I am becoming more and more aware of with each day I see new Tweets, UStream vids, Skype chats, etc roaming the halls of conferences.
Turn off the backchannel: its so distracting for everyone and typically devolves into making fun of the person's appearance. For those of you who don't know about the backchannel at a conference, it's typically an IRC chat room where folks hang out and respond to the speakers. It can be fun and informative when it's good: folks post links, challenge statements with data they find on the web, and riff on what they are hearing. However, chat rooms quickly become inhuman, and I've seen folks make fun of people's accents, their weight, and other such things.
When the backchannel first started, folks would put it on the projector--now most folks understand that's a bad idea because typically the speaker is the only person who doesn't see the comments. So, folks laugh at something, it throws the speaker off and they turn around and say, "What's everyone laughing at?" It was a neat idea at first, but most of the time it's a distraction. I suggest skipping it, or just don't endorse it.
- distracting - check
- devolves into making fun - check
- quickly become inhuman - check
- throws the speaker off - check
Can't help but think that this isn't just a conference thing (even though this is the exact time last year that I experienced the backchannel in all its edu-conference glory at Alan November's BLC, loving almost every minute of it). That being said, time offers new insight that go beyond the echo chamber of niche conference backchannels. Perhaps it isn't about the conference after all. Perhaps it's more about the larger choices we make, and what they say about us.
Backchanneling may be:
- c) easy
- the oh-so new black...
...but it may also be:
the least noble side of our best selves.
And I say that knowing full well 2 key things:
- I've loved being in the legitimate and cheap seats of the backchannel at various times, both at conferences I've attended and virtually as well.
- The edu-blogosphere is alive with happy thoughts about the power of the backchannel to further our collective goals to make kids/teachers/schools' realities better.
I'm just no longer sure that our confidence in the backchannel allows that.
In fact, it may actually do something far worse over time.
I'll leave that to anyone who wants to chew on the conversational bone a bit.
Otherwise, its just a thought I can't escape these days. And its the underlying reason I've decided to officially exit the backchannel stream, both in terms of the frenzy to Twitter update and the frankly unprofessional side of conference chatter that seems to be more and more trendy in edu-circles. While my sophomoric instincts love the game (I can't deny it), I've finally admitted to myself that 99.9% of the backchannel has nothing to do with the goal of working with/for students to better their lives.
The rest too often appears to be misplaced ego or long-hidden middle school drama thrilled to finally have a platform to shout from. At least as far as I'm concerned, this has become the prevailing norm.
Part 4: My Own Tangent
Since way early on in this blogging adventure of mine, I've had one favorite customized post category. In my blog editor, it simply reads:
Not the least bit sexy or provocative, right?.
Hardly del.icio.us geeky, either.
Oh, and certainly other categories would be more org chart friendly or have a chance of paying the bills (i.e. tied back to my previous consulting life).
Best of all -- if you like irony -- I long ago turned off the visible category links on the public end of any blog post in a past spring cleaning effort to rid the site of any extra clutter. After all, many of my posts offer enough of that noise on their own.
And even though nobody can see actually see the category link, I still pick a category when I publish a new post. Kind of a private organizational pact with myself, I suppose.
And when I pick "Doing Good", I'm reminding myself that this little something that just caught my eye is inherently more important than all the rest of the topics I may eventually blog about. In other words, every time I choose to blog about something under the "Doing Good" category, I'm really nudging myself in the backside to focus only on topics that transcend short-term trends and divisive commentary.
So, in the spirit of what Jason has opted to do (for reals or for show), I'm taking my own step out on that gangplank.
From this point on, I either select topics that nestle in real good-n-tight in the "Doing Good" column, or I don't post. At all. Period. Nada.
Salient on a higher level. Or Silence. For reals.
And perhaps silence (with a heavy dose of listening) is really the best thing we can do for each other.
And for our students.