SoCon-clusion

I debated about whether or not I could contribute anything further to the post-SoCon ’09 conversation. I was there to absorb and learn, after all. And yet, there was something …

But first, a story.

I moved to Atlanta during the same year I started spending more and more time online. As much as I can deride the service harshly from a fair distance of fourteen years (and I do often), AOL was king in 1995. When I went online, I would head straight to the Chat Rooms. Atlanta had it’s own. Never much for Buckhead, the AOL chat rooms provided an entertaining means of meeting people, albeit virtually. From these chat-room free-for-alls would surface a suggestion to gather. Like … for real. Pick a destination. Let’s get together and see what we all look like! So one Friday night, I stepped away from my keyboard, put on a clean pair of jeans and went to … God help me … American Pie.

Out of the thirty or so people who met that evening, most behaved much as they’d behaved online. Those who dominated the chat room conversations were the loudest in the room. Those who said little in chat were just as quiet. And then there were the real-life Instant Messagers, guys who would leap into the middle of a table’s conversation to chat up one girl or another. Where was I? Mostly being myself, which worked out well enough. Overall, the experience was fascinating, but I never attended another. Too weird, even for me. And then there was the social aspect. Even though there was fun to be had, it was a fun that had to go mostly unspoken. “You met someone from AOL? Isn’t that dangerous?”

What has this to do with SoCon ’09? Sure, SoCon was about expanding awareness of the capabilities of Social Media, finding new ways to make it work for positive change or cashflow, divining what the future holds. But for me, it was a reality check. Nobody had all of the answers and more than a few walked away relatively unchanged, but what struck me about SoCon was the unabashed enthusiasm that everyone shared for the sprawling connective thing that brought us together.

People attached real-life faces to names they knew only from Twitter or some other means of online networking, and they did so with practically none of the Internet’s former stigma. Basically, we’ve come a very long way from having to come up with clever ways to talk around the ways we meet. If you met online, you met online. So be it. No need to say you met at a coffee shop — when in fact, a coffee shop is where you finally met the love of your life in person after meeting online first.

One of the best takeaways from SoCon ’09 was a simple reassurance from Amber Rhea‘s breakout session. The title of her panel referred to Online Etiquette, but the conversation took an evolving turn into a discussion of how to be yourself online. As I admitted to the group, it took me far more that half of my ten years of cumulative blogging (and proto-blogging) to realize that the best person I can be online is myself. It takes far too much effort and wastes so much time to do otherwise. “To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet,” to invoke T. S. Eliot. The things that might get one in trouble in real life could still trip you up online. Hopping on the Internet absolves nobody of their responsibility to not be a jerk.

Already, there are summaries of the knowledge gleaned from keynote speakers like Jeff Haynie, Chris Carfi and so on (here is one, here is another, and another, and here is the AJC). No need for me to rehash that here. Instead, I will be more presumptuous than I might deserve to be and suggest …

The goal of future SoCons should be: “Make SoCon obsolete.”

This isn’t blasphemy against the social media cause. Not at all. I imagine a future where the children of our nephew’s children think of SoCon and similar weekends just as quaintly as we would look back at a turn-of-the-last-century Gathering of Horseless Carriage Enthusiasts. In 1995, only the brave, the curious and the geeky were to be found online. In 2009, meeting someone who has never seen the Internet is like finding a living fossil. Twitter is the bee’s knees right now, and it will be replaced in little to no time with something better. This is an age of small wonders where your mother is on Facebook and cats have blogs. In fact, your mother’s cat might be blogging about you, right now.

These wonderful Social Media tools we have are nothing more than what they are and we need to socialize them to the Nth degree. Strive for the ubiquity of Social Media in whatever form it takes. Because the sooner we can stop talking about what we are going to do with all of these wonderful toys, the sooner we can actually start doing something.

More SoCon ’09 Write-Ups: Susan at Cafe Mir, Sherry Heyl from Concept Hub, Inc., a pair of wrap-ups on TechDrawl, Dan Greenfield’s Bernaise Source, Jon at Spatially Relevant, thoughts from Amber Rhea, a post from Tessa, more from Leonard Witt (Will update this list as it grows along.)

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  • Because the sooner we can stop talking about what we are going to do with all of these wonderful toys, the sooner we can actually start doing something.

    Yes.

  • Best. SoCon. Blog Post. Yet.

    I will get mine done eventually but it will not compete with yours in the slightest.

  • People attached real-life faces to names they knew only from Twitter or some other means of online networking, and they did so with practically none of the Internet’s former stigma. Basically, we’ve come a very long way from having to come up with clever ways to talk around the ways we meet. If you met online, you met online. So be it. No need to say you met at a coffee shop — when in fact, a coffee shop is where you finally met the love of your life in person after meeting online first.

    Love that you mentioned this.

    The first time I met someone from online was in 1996 and I didn’t tell my mom – I snuck around when she wasn’t home – because I knew she’d have an absolute conniption fit. I had once mentioned something to her about possibly meeting someone from AOL and she freaked – it was a “safety” issue. You don’t know who these people are!

    I met my first husband online originally – on AOL, because yes, that was the place to be. Technically, my friend met him on AOL, and then “introduced” us on AOL. This was 1998. The stigma was still there.

    Whenever my mom or anyone her age would ask how we met, I’d say simply, “[friend] introduced us.”

    It wasn’t a lie, but it wasn’t the whole story. But I didn’t want to deal with all the “OMG the internet???!!” drama.

    Now, I tell everyone, unabashedly, that Rusty and I met thru our blogs.

    Undoubtedly this probably would’ve happened anyway, stigma or not, since I’m older now and less inclined to have to deal w/ repercussions based on what my mom thinks about the people I pal around with. But it’s true that the stigma is almost nonexistent now.

  • Ha! How well I remember. Although I think my mom took “we met at a coffeeshop” as short hand for, “how we met is no one’s concern,” which is also true.

  • Well, and I also didn’t tell my mom that our first online conversation was all about the logistics of how and where we would have sex.

  • Meanwhile back at the ranch…. I’m busily evolving into doing nothing at all! Such as NOT writing-up my thoughts about SoCon09. Why not? They’re all being written-up just fine by other people. Here’s the part of Social Media where I sit back and watch. Maybe have a glass of wine around 6pm. Watch a little 24.

  • Hey, I was on AOL in ’95 and on Prodigy before that. My little girl ran up a $600+ bill on Prodigy trading toy horses on a message board (Prodigy charged for emails after the first 30). I remember surfing the web late at night in ’97 when the news popped on my screen, Princess Diana Killed in Car Accident in Paris. (Even though the Princess was a little flakey, I was saddened by the news because my mother, sister and I had watched the Royal Wedding live on TV at 4:00 in the morning from Atlanta). Yes, there was a real sense of friendship online with other “early adopters” that gave us a glimpse the world was indeed flattening. I am very sentimental about those days. In fact, Ben Dyer and I plan to visit the Computing History Museum in Mountain View, CA next month.

    Thomas, I agree with Tessa. Your post on SoCon09. The. Very. Best. Period. Thanks for posting it on TechDrawl and please come back.

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  • My wife and I met online in 1994. It was still somewhat edgy then. But we agreed we weren’t going to make anything up about coffee shops or whatever.

    In fact, we printed out our Yahoo Personals profiles on 24×36 poster boards and had them on easels at our wedding reception! Shocked my mom a bit, but most people thought it was great!

    (And two of our friends since then have met partners/spouses on line, and give us the credit for making it seem normal.)

  • I’m living in the wrong decade. “1994” in that post should have been “2004.” Oops.

  • Stephen, I think your wife just said it “feels” like since 1994 😀

  • Thoughtful post. I appreciate the power of doing – but when it comes to social media talking sometimes is doing. To me, social media = conversation.

  • Oh, I agree entirely. Social Media is conversation, entirely. Sometimes the conversation is one-sided. At other times, one side needs only to listen while the other speaks. But my concern is about the subject of conversation and moving that subject further along.

    It is one thing to spend a road trip talking about how awesome your car is, but a better thing entirely to talk about where you’re going and what you’ll do once you get there.

    (Thank you all for your comments and contributions so far.)

  • I often announce to people that Dan and I met online (through match.com). How ARE you supposed to meet potential spouses these days? There should be no stigma, but I find many people are still surprised, if not a bit shocked. Truly, the web is how the vast majority of my friends who didn’t meet their spouses in high school or college met them. I encourage all my single friends who wish they weren’t single to give it a try for a while.