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.)