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Posts Tagged ‘higher education’

Is it just me, or is anybody else feeling the boundaries of their personal and professional lives becoming more porous? My friends are my colleagues, my colleagues are my contacts, my contacts are my peers, my peers are my friends, and so on and so on. Smarter folks (like Julien Smith and Chris Brogan) call this the blending of social constructs, but no matter what you call it, I think it’s critical if you want to get anything out of social media.

Okay, scratch that — maybe not anything. After all, I suppose some folks find value in simply staying connected in these new ways. It’s kind of fun to know what my cousins in Atlanta are up to, and what my old high school friend did over the Fourth of July weekend. Either of those would certainly fall under the category of anything. But I like to get a bit more out of it, frankly.

Take Twitter, for example. I don’t follow a ton of people, but those I do follow are pretty interesting folks. All day long they are cluing me in to websites I should check out, pointing me to some new trend in my business or my profession in general, or guiding me to a pertinent news story. These folks aren’t selling anything. They are simply giving me a small 140 character window into what they are thinking at that moment, and since many of us are in similar businesses or professions, I often find these tiny windows surprisingly illuminating. Perhaps that’s because, like most folks, I tend to build my networks around similar interests, and so those networks are often rich with pertinent information.

True, my network sometimes tells me things that may not be so illuminating — at least not in a professional way (though I do reap great benefit from my friend Laura’s irrepressible optimism). Some of the folks I follow on Twitter, like comedian Tim Siedell, are simply good for a laugh at random moments throughout the day. And some of my Twitter feeds are straight up news. (For my money, there’s no better way to get on-the-spot news.)

But here’s what intrigues me — it all seems to add up somehow. This blended stream of incoming information seems to create something unlike anything else I’ve known. If it were all professional all the time, I’d process it with some corner of my brain that holds the “you-have-to-read-this-because-it’s-good-for-you” reflex. If it were all personal all the time, I’d process it with my “well-that’s-interesting-but-probably-not-particularly-useful” reflex. And in either case, I’d be missing out on something.

Also — lurkers, take note —  it’s worth pointing out that until you jump in, you quite likely won’t understand how this confluence works. That’s another matter I’ve been giving some thought to, and will be doing a presentation on at the fall College Communicators Association conference.

So thanks to all of you, my personafessional friends/colleagues/contacts/peers. Keep me posted.

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Center Hall, Wabash CollegeThere are ten or so of us who have returned for the reunion, and we’re having drinks on the front porch of a fraternity house on a balmy summer’s evening in the Midwest, swapping stories from decades ago. A couple of wives are among the group, and they are smiling graciously — even as the stories occasionally slip toward the ribald. These women are either supremely patient or genuinely interested. To their great credit, I can’t really tell which.

In many of these stories, our collective remembrances line up, creating a kind of living breathing memory, alive for the first time in decades, right there on the front porch in the dying light, and we’re all grateful for the confirmation that it did happen, and that it happened in just the way we remember it. But not all the stories are like that.

At the moment, my old friend Charlie’s got the spotlight. Charlie’s always been a great storyteller. In the story he’s sharing — his hands in near-constant motion, both punctuating and illustrating — the lead character is a young man with a fondness for white painter’s overalls and a KISS poster above his study desk. All around me, friends are smiling and laughing as they remember this young man, and as they do so, their eyes turn to me.

“No way,” I say. I’m sure they have me confused with someone else, but the more I insist they are wrong, the clearer their memories become. Yes, really, they say. It was me. Eventually, the cumulative detail in their recountings knocks the plaque off of some small corner of my brain, and I recall not only the white overalls, but the green and white polo shirt I liked to wear underneath them.

This was not quite what I was expecting. I mean I knew I would get glimpses into both the past and present lives of my friends. That was something I was really looking forward to, and I was not disappointed. As I said in an early post, it turns out that they are as interesting as I remember them, and their lives bear that judgment out. But I hadn’t anticipated this other phenomenon, the one that began there on the front porch and carried on late into the evening and early morning hours.

As it turns out, in some small way, our younger selves remain alive in the memories of our old friends, and if ever they have occasion to share those memories, we may catch a glimpse of a vaguely familiar stranger there.

Some of these glimpses give me pause, for the details of the stories would seem to call into question my judgment, my ethics, my morality, and more.

But other remembrances strike a different, and thankfully, more positive note. A former classmate recalled a time when I unwittingly spoke for the whole class by raising an insistent and firm voice of dissent when we were being asked by a young and inexperienced assistant professor to swallow some cockamamie academic theory whole.

Either way, these stories are instructive, for I’m encouraged to see how far I’ve progressed from my impetuous youth, and both surprised and heartened to see how closely I’ve adhered to a set of core values that I developed during those years.

In both cases, I have my friends — and the occasion of a thirty-year reunion — to thank for it.

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Center Hall, Wabash CollegeLet me be up front about something — I’m not real big on the whole reunion thing. I’ve long believed that those that I really cared about I would keep in touch with. The others — the folks that I would only see at a reunion? Well, as much as our shared experiences may have helped form me, that was then, and this is now. There’s really not much connection between the two.

This is, of course, ridiculous. Over the years I’ve managed to lose touch with all kinds of people, and it’s certainly not because I don’t care about them. It’s just such bloody hard work, it seems. First, you have to be pretty mindful to maintain regular contact with folks who aren’t in your immediate sphere, and then, if you don’t maintain regular contact, there’s all that catching up to do.

So I’m not very sure what made me decide to drive ten hours northwest to Wabash College to attend my thirty year college reunion. Maybe it had something to do with a critical mass of my closest friends who were coalescing around the event. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that my birthday was over the same weekend. Or maybe it was just a sense I had that, at 52 years old, it might not be such a bad time to catch up.

I did catch up, and I’m happy to report that my friends were as funny, intelligent, interesting, and downright decent as I remember them. They’ve all accomplished much, yet still carry within them a kind of curiosity about how the world works, the kind of curiosity that was formed — and continues to be informed — by our liberal arts education. Our conversations were nostalgic, current, funny, serious, irreverent, thoughtful, flippant, and — often — earnest. It was this latter quality that struck me the most, as it is a quality which, I must shamefully confess, doesn’t seem to crop up in many of my casual conversations any more.

Over just 36 hours or so, I discovered much about these men — their triumphs, their disappointments, their wives, their children, their work, their beliefs. Such is to be expected, I guess, at an event whose primary purpose is to facilitate such catching up. But here’s what surprised me. Over the course of this brief time, I caught up with someone else, someone I haven’t been in touch with for a long, long while — me.

More on that later.

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Okay, I’m in. And apparently I’m a bit late to the party. I just read an article on CNN that said that in the last year — that’s February 2008 to February 2009 — the number of Twitter users jumped from 475,000 to — are you ready for this? — seven MILLION. That’s an increase of 1374 percent, according to their math. That’s a whole lot of tweeting going on.

And, if you are in the business of creating and spreading messages, a network with seven million users gets your attention.

So I’m in, but I’m not in because I’ve figured how I’m going to make it work for me.  Frankly, I’m not convinced that anyone has quite figured out exactly how it should work.

Yes, I know the success stories. The celebs with thousands of followers, the web 2.0 thought leaders who wax eloquent in 140 characters, the guy who broke the news to the world that a plane had gone down in the Hudson from his iPhone and Twitter account.

But I’m not a celeb, nor much of a thought leader. And my communications  have little to do with breaking news. They are communications that require context and demand depth, and whatever Twitter’s strengths may be, I hope we can all agree that these capabilities aren’t among them.

Still, I’m intrigued by the thought of discovering more, of learning how this techno-tsunami will change the way I must work. Can I use it to build audiences and strengthen communities? Can an organization establish and hold these audiences in the same way an individual can — all while using 140 characters at a time? Or does its chief value for me lie in its ability to carry a link out to all who are following my feed, a link that will pull folks into a longer form story on the web, a story that has the context, the depth, and the call to action that I need?

Frankly, I don’t know a thing about the future of Twitter. As the CNN article posits, perhaps there’s a backlash brewing. That wouldn’t be too surprising, would it? Usually if something grows that much that fast, there’s always a bit of a backlash. (Can anyone say Crocs?)

I suppose that’s because what makes such a thing gain traction — its coolness, hipness, and web-geeky kind of cred– is horribly diminished when when guys like me get a hold of it. (Just today, I had to resist the impulse to tweet something like “It must be really spring. I just saw a bluebird.”)

I may be late to the party, but at least it’s still a party — for now. Maybe I’ll see  you there.  If not, I’ll tweet and let you know how it is.

How are you using Twitter personally? What about professionally? What do you see as its chief strength? Is it working for you? Share your thoughts in the comments (and use as many characters as you want.)

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Every day they come. Usually three or more a day, substantially adding to the bulk of mail that gets stuffed in our curbside box. Some come in plain envelopes, some in gaudier expensive mailers. Some contain color-rich trifold brochures, others a simple letter on high-end stock. Each one makes a case for the uniqueness of what they offer, yet they are all remarkably similar — both to one another, and to every other direct mail offer we get. The difference is that these are all addressed to my son, who recently had the poor sense to do well on a standardized national test and thus open the floodgates of the college recruitment process.

Not so many years ago, I wrote these earnest pieces for a couple of different schools, and while I can’t say that I necessarily believed everything I wrote for those places, I did believe that somehow my words could capture a prospective student’s attention — at least enough for them to take a step to further the dialogue and thereby increase the volume of mail we sent them.

It’s a time-honored tradition in higher-ed marketing, this war of the mailboxes, and while it seems like an anachronism in this day and age — and schools are clearly moving on to newer technologies for recruiting — our daily mail provides ample evidence that it still works, or at least that old habits die hard.

All of these mailings conjure up images of the purity of intellectual pursuit set against the backdrop of meaningful personal relationships and a rich and vibrant social life. There’s usually a hint of ivy in there somewhere, too.

But tell me — is that what your college experience was like? Did it match up with the literature?

I’m grateful that I attended a small rigorous college but, despite the ivy and brick campus, my experience there hardly lived up to what I imagined it would be when I arrived as a freshman. I learned to think there — something I’d never thought would need to be taught. But I didn’t really learn much about what to think about. That came much, much later. Over the years, I’ve used that thinking skill again and again and again — far more than I recall ever using it while I was there, but I’ve sometimes struggled — and still do — with what exactly I should be thinking about.

Maybe that was just me, struggling with my own lassitude and uncertainty about what I wanted to be when I grew up. Surely today’s students — more driven, more connected, more accustomed to the advantages higher education offers — have a different experience, right?

Different? Yes. Better? Well …

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