I've sat back and been fascinated by the social networking revolution! I watched Myspace take off, I've seen good friends get immersed in Facebook, and I've had to deal with teeanage conflict arising out of Nexopia. I never participated in any of those networks however, because I didn't have time (I thought) and I just thought it did not look like much fun. I had lots of reasons, I suppose, but at the heart of it I think I was just too busy working and trying to be a good husband/father to my family.
I have always been an advocate of online discussion forums though, as I find them amazingly useful sources of information on a wide variety of topics. When I was a rabid Palm user, I wrote reviews of software and hardware for a while, sharing them in different forums. When I built my mountain bike, I received great support from people in a couple of different forums. When I needed to fix my treadmill, I found the answer in a DIY group. On the whole though, I didn't see the utility of groups like those as anything more than a handy resource. It made sense to me why they would not have widespread appeal, as they were too focused for most people and only the diehards want to talk PDSs all day every day anyway.
Approximately a month ago though, I read an article on the power of Twitter for teachers, and I thought I should check it out and see what value there was in it. WOW! Twitter has helped me identify the true value in social networking. Twitter is networking, but is not narrowly focused. It is real time, and flexible, and can meet the many different needs that many different people may have. Flexibility is a key word re: future learning, and Twitter is flexible. Now, the concept of a Personal Learning Network is at the heart of Twitter's utility to me.
Now, I don't really care to know what my friends had for lunch, unless they are buying me lunch, but I do care when one of them posts a link to some great new research on how to teach math more effectively. Or when one of them invites me to discuss the importance of 1:1 computing with members of their state's government (thanks #vanmeter gurus, that was fun!). Twitter can do that for me, and the people I follow, and interact with daily, are in my PLN. They are great sources of inspiration, and information, and supplement the learning I engage in with colleagues in my district nicely!
If you have not taken a look at Twitter yet, give it a shot. Get an account, go to this site and find some people to follow, get a desktop client (I like Tweetdeck) on your computer and sit back and watch and learn from your group. I bet you will soon find yourself wanting to share as well!
Taking the concept of social networking in a completely new direction, today I watched a video that dropped my jaw to the floor. In a video available on TED, Jamie Heywood discusses his website Patients Like Me, that uses the principles of social networking for patients receiving medical care. As patients share their data, a staggering amount of information is collected and freely available for others to use. I believe Heywood shared that there are over 45,000 patients sharing data on their diseases, which is a staggering amount of collaboration on such an important topic. I can't do it justice, the information contained in the site is a bit overwhelming, so please watch Jamie's video, I think it will AMAZE you too. I'm still processing what I saw, but I wanted to share it now while it was fresh in my mind. I'll come back later and edit it after processsing for a while.
The essence of my amazement is how we can work together, as members from a disparate society, to fight illnesses that in years past would have been solitary battles. If we can do that, and make a positive difference, what can we do for issues like poverty and homelessness if some amazing entrepreneur comes up with a way for us to work together in some new innovative social network?
When I think of the problems I face in my normal day to day life, they pale in comparison to some of the issues I was writing about above. My takeaway learning for the day is that I need to change MY perspective to solve my issues. I need to imagine starting from scratch and trying to build support systems to help meet my/our goals, instead of trying to apply micro-levels of change to my current situation. Einstein's words about solving the problems of the future with different thinking that what caused today's problems never rang more true!