On the Internet, we write ourselves into existence.
That’s a wonderful thing. It allows us to reach audiences that we otherwise wouldn’t reach. It allows us to try on personas – and perhaps to reinvent ourselves – in ways that may be difficult in our everyday, face-to-face interactions.
But it also can be misleading.
Several recent incidents have caused me to revise some of my pre-existing beliefs about a few fairly prominent education bloggers. I now think and feel differently about them than I did just a few months ago, simply because I now have more information and thus a more complete picture of who they are.
I’ve been thinking about this as I get ready to head to the ISTE conference later this week. I won’t necessarily be wary as I interact with my edublogger peers, but I may be just a little less willing to accept things as they appear on their face. Not much, just a tiny bit. Most of the time people are as they appear – face-to-face or online – and I’d rather be a naive, trusting optimist than a negative, surly skeptic. But we have to recognize that we all also have secrets, ones that may remain uncovered because of geographic and/or interactional distance.
That edublogger who’s active in Twitter every evening and has a bunch of followers? He seems cool but maybe he beats his kids.
That edublogger with 20,000 subscribers and a heart of gold online? She seems great but maybe she’s cheating on her spouse. Or a cutter.
That charming, effervescently cheery and witty edublogger that everyone loves to hang out with at the conference? He seems wonderful but maybe he’s embezzling funds. Or a kleptomaniac. Or a drunk driver.
As you head to the ISTE conference later this week, or simply interact with folks online, I leave you with the thought:
Can you ever really know that edublogger beside you?
Update: I’m not as pessimistic as this may read. I’m just thinking out loud here…
Image credit: In order to exist online we must write ourselves into being
I’d say the answer is, “no.” But, can you ever really know anyone? There are secrets neighbors keep from each other…family members keep from each other. It’s part of life. We’re all sinners in one sense or another. I think you just have to be careful as to who you let into the more intimate parts of your life. Is someone I meet at EduBloggerCon going to get into the depths of my life? Probably not, but we can have a nice business/education/blogger relationship.
It sounds like some recent findings about people have soured you. It’s such a bummer, isn’t it? I think any time we interact with people and let them into our lives whether online or offline that happens.
It’s the truth that each of us invents ourselves online. And it is a good and true reminder to be wary of “friendships” with those we only know from the blogosphere.
That said, I always err on the side of being open and trusting, and yes, even a bit naive. But so far, so good– I haven’t been too disappointed by those relationships that have become more “real”. On the flip side of that, I tend to be a bit judgmental of people online. I’m not one to jump on the popularity wagon, and I maintain a distance from the heart of the edublogger scene (mainly because I can’t keep up and don’t know how people do it all!) That probably has both positive and negative consequences for me at ISTE where, for better or worse, I will be one of the many anonymous faces.
It is always wise to proceed with caution. Thanks for the post! see you at ISTE 🙂
I took your post as realistic rather than pessimistic. As I have come to learn that even the most wise and cautious among us can get doped.
I believe with anyone, truth bubbles up over time. There may be a persona on or offline that serves as a temporary blind spot, but eventually ethics, empathy, and decency win out over ego and evil-intention. OR, at least that is what I am banking on.
What I do see online is amazing individuals and a passionate community working everyday towards something bigger and better for the world. There is strength in numbers and hopefully a force that will move individuals towards good.
Thanks for the post, and look forward to being an edublogger sitting next to you very soon! 🙂 Travel safe, and I’ll see you in Denver!
Very nice post, I agree with you. I hope to run into you at ISTE in Denver!
Oops! Looks like I responded to Jennifer in the wrong spot.
Angela, as always I enjoy your insights as well and agree with what you have to say. One of the things that I look forward to when attending something like ISTE is meeting many whom I follow on Twitter and read their blogs.
A common theme seems to be that most of us are open, friendly, compassionate educators who enjoy spending time with each other and learning other’s ideas. Isn’t that one of the reasons to have your own PLN? I think so.
For me, I’ll sit next to anyone at ISTE and hopefully will meet an old friend or an interesting new one.
I hope to see you in Denver as well.
Might I wander the other way, if I might…..
1. What if the edublogger next to you is an award winning educator or a leader in his/her community for loyalty and service….but you would never know, because they don’t boast.
2. What if the edublogger next to you has been faithfully married for 40+ years and still enjoys holding his/her spouse’s hand, romance, and would marry him/her all over again?
3. What if the edublogger next to you is a cancer survivor, or a recovering alcoholic, or lost a child?
4. What if the edublogger next to you is doubting whether they wish to even stay in education anymore or continue blogging and is struggling with self-doubt?
I agree that we do need to realize that what we see in a blogpost is just a layer of the real person behind the blog.
Personally, that is why I enjoy going to conferences, because I ask the questions beyond “tech” to see who the real person is…..
and sometimes they share and sometimes not.
You have defined the issue: the perceptions from which we view the world within the realities of life. You seel the glass half-full – “Some people see the glass half full. Others see it half empty. I see a glass that’s twice as big as it needs to be.” ~ Will Rogers
And if it is true, “What we think, we become,” then perhaps social media provides the vehicle for us to become what we wish to be, in lieu of the realities of each of our lives. Thanks for your perception of the world…
I’d say just say what you want and pretend nobody is an edublogger. The majority of people aren’t.
Interesting. For me, I have enjoyed most of the edubloogers I have met at previous NECC, Edubloggercons and other conferences. Also, I have gained a tremendous amount of knowledge from my PLN.
As to the question posed: Can you ever really know that edublogger beside you?
The answer is probably no. I for one, take people on face value. I assume that many are like me, they are good educators who enjoy learning more. No, I don’t know them as well as I know family and friends, but with some that I’ve met and followed for several years, I have an idea that most are good people who I respect and look forward to their ideas and things that they post so that I can increase my knowledge.
In many ways my online relationships are like those in the real world. I have many acquaintances at work, from connections to my wife’s activities, and from social situations. But I really don’t know their their lives at anything but a superficial level, certainly not if they are hiding some kind dark secret. As I get to know a small number of these people better, some may become friends based on a deepening relationship.
The same thing happens online. I regularly follow a couple hundred people who produce content online, some of whom I will meet and talk to at conferences like ISTE and elsewhere. Except for a very few with whom I eventually develop some kind of relationship, most will remain interesting acquaintances.
However, I am the type of person who assumes best intentions on the part of people I meet until they give me cause to think otherwise. And there have been some former members of my PLN who did give me good reasons for doubt. I try hard to be honest and transparent with my associations online and not give people cause to suspect my motivations.
Have a great time in Denver, Scott. I will be following the back channel instead of attending live (first time in six years) so I’ll be counting on my PLN to keep me informed. Don’t let me down. 🙂
I have been meeting people in real life who I first met over the Internet for about 25 years now. Sometimes I am dissapointed with the person I met in real life. Other times I works out better than I expected. That’s life online I think. A person on line is just one dimension of who they are. Often times it is a mask of some sort at least in part. I am far more outgoing online than I am in person for example. But then I am more outgoing at a conference than I am in my non-professional life as well. We are all who we are in a particular context.
So perhaps someone we think we know and who we respect from their work online is a jerk in real life. It happens. But sometimes people we think we know well in real life but in the context of working with them is totally different outside of work. That’s just something that is.
In the mean time, I try not to disappoint people when I meet them in real life. And in some cases try and convince them that I’m not as bad as they think I am from online. It works both ways you know.
This post is in poor taste, I think. You list a bunch of personal traits and demons which should generally not affect the way you look at people’s value as educators. Maybe if you had said “this guy with the brilliant ideas had 20 years of being the least popular teacher in his school” but “kleptomaniac?” “A cutter?”
At least now we know that you’re a judgmental person and can be sure to hide our flaws from you! (I don’t know how to do a half-hearted wink, so I’ll leave this as is)
Tim’s phrase, “most will remain interesting acquaintances,” is the reality of the conferences we attend. I’m okay with that though, to be honest.
You have been on my mind lately as we sat together in the Blogger’s cafe last year and you helped me sort out an initiative I run through work. Do we know each other well? No, we don’t. But your advice helped me make improvements this year and for that I am thankful.
I have to comment that we really don’t typically know the edublogger sitting next to us. And in the last few weeks, it has caused some distress. But this is life. You’re not a pessimist. You’re a realist.
So how did you find out that I am a nose-picking, wife-beating serial killer with a cocaine habit and a poor credit rating? (And a secret tea-party member). Don’t even get me started on my perverted sex life.
We old English teachers use to advise our students to judge the work not the author. I suspect this applies to bloggers as well.
Excuse me while I go kick a kitten,
Thanks goodness, Doug. I thought he found out about ME.
But now I’m wondering…can you ever really know that Midwestern university professor beside you? Maybe he cheated on his exams to get his degree, or slept with his (or her) professors, or…
Sheesh. You just never know do you?
Your ‘thinking out loud’ is an illustration that can feed concerns parents and educators have concerning safety and content kids face as technology and access to information improves.
Given adults with experience and skills continue to find surprises like those you describe, we owe it to students to continue to work to create safe learning environments and proper uses of technologies as they find their way into various learning environments.
Dave (school board member)
What,exactly,is the point, Scott? Why should we even care, if their online contributions benefit us? Not trying to be callous, but they (pln members) are nothing but casual, professional acquaintances, so Iguess I just don’t see the need to give it a second thought.
A big thank you to everyone who’s commented on this post. Another big thank you to everyone who said you were worried about me! I’m really okay, haven’t been burned, and am not upset or sour or feeling “dark.” I was just getting some stuff out of my head that’s been in there a while. I guess I better work on my wording!
@Andrea H: I, too, will continue to err on the side of being open, trusting, and, perhaps, naive.
@Jen Wagner: Awesome comment. Thanks so much for portraying the other side!
@Helene Martin: Sorry if you think this post is judgmental. I didn’t mean it to be. I was just trying to portray some scenarios that might be hidden for otherwise well-known bloggers. I didn’t have anyone in particular in mind when I wrote these up; in other words, these don’t describe real people that I know and deliberately are not the situations that prompted this blog post. You’re correct that some of these – e.g., being a cutter or a kleptomaniac – may fall under the category of ‘personal, private demons that shouldn’t concern us’ rather than the category of ‘things we might care about because they cause us to rethink our perception of someone as a good, honest, trustworthy person.’
@Doug Johnson: I knew you kicked kittens! I appreciate your sentiment to separate the work from the person. That said, we sure spend a lot of time in literature understanding authors’ lives and contextual backgrounds to help inform our understanding of what they wrote. I’m not sure if I agree that knowing the whole person – and not just the online persona – isn’t worthwhile at some level (if it ever can be achieved).
@Randy Rodgers: This is a fair criticism. If members of our PLN are just casual, professional acquaintances (i.e., people with whom we have fairly loose ties), then perhaps we don’t care. But if our PLN members are more than that – or on their way to becoming more than that – then I think it may be more relevant. Some of my PLN members started as ‘people who live so far down the street that I don’t really care that much about them’ but have morphed into something that more closely resembles ‘neighbors next door about whom I care a lot more than I used to.’
@David Putz (who’s a school board member here in Ames, IA): Thanks for leaving a comment. I concur that it’s critical for schools to be teaching students to be effective navigators of – and critical thinkers in – our new digital tools and information landscapes. I’m not sure we do a very good job of that, either in Iowa or nationwide.
I appreciate the feedback and conversation, everyone. Hope to see many of you at the ISTE conference!
I think about this sometimes… There are some interesting folks for sure. Weird that you would write about something so out of left field, but true. Sometimes I spend too much time with my iPad, Fb, etc. when I should be spending time with my kids… Hate to admit that.
This is just conjecture here but this post makes me think of Jim Groom. Something from the tone of his writing and the persona he portrays on his blog [Bava Tuesdays] makes me think he is an edublogger who would like us to think these awful things about him. Jim, you there?
Scott, not everyone is transparent, open, and perfect 100% of the time. For myself, I know that blogging helps me exorcise my petty demons–you know, the self-doubt that plague any normal life, that pale in significance to the real problems people have (e.g. starvation, poverty, BP oil spill)–and it helps me make known my work, whether perfect or not.
That’s a valuable gift to oneself, one that may or may not meet the needs of others. I know that I am sometimes a disappointment to folks when I meet them, and I’m OK with that…sometimes, I’m not and I greet both with equal embarassment.
Every time I write, it makes a difference…for me, and, sometimes, for others.
That said, when we meet, I realize that I am a flawed human being trying to understand another person who may be better off, equally or worse flawed than I. If what I have to share helps, great. If what they have to offer helps me, and they offer it without strings, then I’ll consider accepting it.
We can be stronger together but only when we embrace our faults and share our vulnerabilities…they are what we have to offer in the end, and they can be…glorious.
Time to read St. George and the Dragon and the Quest for the Holy Grail again…join me?
The act of creation embodied in my blog, in everything I write, are powerful antidotes to the poison I encounter in the wilderness of despair, of fear, and hypocrisy. The act of creation does not negate my own acts of despair, fear, and hypocrisy. Rather, it allows me to transform them, like the dragon in my favorite story of St. George and The Quest for the Holy Grail. (Click on the link, read the story…ok, here it is:
From my position high on the dragon’s back, I noticed that the dragon’s body was covered with old wounds. WHenever the dragon breathed forth fire to light the path in front of us, I noticed that the wounds glowed golden-red in the dark. When I asked about them, the dragon replied, “Oh, my friend, I have been slain a thousand times, but I have always arisen again. These old wounds are the source of my power and my insight. Our greatest and worst enemies are not the monsters who roam the forest or even wicked witches or evil wizards. No, it is our scars, our wounds, and old injuries that we must fear. As we journey through life we have all been injured–hurt by parents, brothers or sister, schoolmates, strangers, lovers, teachers. Each wound has the power to talk to us, you know. They speak, however, with crooked voices because of the scars.
All of us have wounds–old ones and new ones–and whenever the monster appears, when hell breaks loose, we know that our old wounds are talking guiding us. It is these wounds that must be confronted (Hays, 1986).)
If more information about someone makes me push away, the problem isn’t them…it’s me. It means, provided they were open, that I let old wounds guide me.
Is the real question whether or not we can agree with someone whole-heartedly on a professional level when we lose respect for them because of their personal decisions?
There’s a lot of good conversation occurring around this topic over at Steven Anderson’s blog:
This was an odd post. I would think I would be more worried if the edublogger beside me was being paid by some other educational entity to push certain ideas rather than whether or not they cheated on their spouse. You can wonder if the people beside you like to chop people up into little pieces and eat them…but it seems counterproductive.
If you are anything like me when it comes to blogging there is always something more to the story. My guess is this post was based on something that really happened, but you have enough class to not call anyone out. If this is based on what I think it is based on then I think it does make me question who really is writing what I am reading. Enough said. 🙂