So here we are, 2017. Pretty glad to see you, if you want to know the truth. 2016 was a year full of more turmoil and tragedy than I care to remember.
I bet you are buried in promises today, right? Doesn’t EVERYONE wake up on January 1st ready to make new commitments about how they are going to choose to live during your 365 days? My guess is that you probably roll your eyes every time that someone casts their promises towards the heavens, knowing full well that most of those promises will be abandoned by the end of your first month. Don’t believe me? Go ask 2016. He’s BOUND to tell you that promises made in the first minutes of a new year aren’t worth a hill of beans.
But I AM going to make a promise to you whether you like it or not: I promise to spend more of my time behind screens reading and commenting on blogs and less time liking and retweeting the content that I consume.
Now I know what you are thinking: “Nice promise, Bill. Really ambitious. So thankful that you are committed to making our world a better place by commenting more than liking. You are a real Mother Teresa, aren’t you?! Sheesh, these people. So selfish with their resolutions. Can’t SOMEBODY come up with a promise that matters?”
Here’s the thing, 2017. I REALLY believe that commenting more and liking less WILL make the world a better place. It’s NOT a selfish act.
Here’s why: No matter what people say, social spaces are decidedly antisocial nowadays. Most of our interactions in Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest are shallow on a good day. We think mashing the like button or sharing someone’s post out in our own social streams is some kind of meaningful endorsement of the people we are learning from, but those acts require nothing of us — and show nothing to the creators who are sharing content in our streams.
I’m not trying to be all judgy here. I know why we like and pin and share instead of comment. We do it because it is fast and easy.
But make no mistake about it: “Fast and easy” acknowledgement cheapens the value of the very spaces that we’ve embraced.
Content creators stop seeing their audiences as people they are connected to and start seeing their audiences as people they are trying to sell their ideas to. And audiences stop seeing the content creators that they follow as actual people who are reflecting transparently and pushing conversations forward. Instead, content creators are just another brand in the marketplace shouting for attention. What was supposed to be “networked learning” has become “a network for buying and selling ideas about learning.” Each Tweet or Pin or Post or Favorite or Share is a transaction instead of a contribution.
Need a different way to think about it? Likes and pins and retweets are nothing more than the digital equivalent of the Gingerbread soap you gave your grandmother for the holidays because you just so happened to be in the Bath and Body Works the week before Christmas.
Sure, Gingerbread soap is a gift. No argument there. But it’s not a thoughtful gift that you put time and energy into. It was the easiest step you could take to fill your part of the gift-giving bargain and everyone — grandma included — knows it. While you may not realize it at first, that bar of Gingerbread soap fundamentally changes your relationship with grandma because it is a sign of just how little you really want to think about her. You’ll do it because you are supposed to — it IS a social expectation, after all — but not out of any real sense of gratitude for Grandma.
Am I making any sense, 2017?
I guess what I’m saying is that I am making a commitment to LEARNING WITH rather than LEARNING FROM people this year. I’m going to read and react to the ideas being shared by others. I’m going to ask questions instead of look for answers. I’m going to start conversations instead of share content. I’m going to show people that I’m really listening — and that I’m grateful enough for their efforts and ideas to spend time wrestling with and responding to those ideas in their comment sections.
My bet is that every comment will strengthen the connections that I have with people. Instead of seeing me as just another icon in their feeds, they’ll see me as a person with a voice who cares enough about them to react to what they’ve written. Our relationships will be strengthened — something that can only happen one thoughtful interaction at a time — and stronger relationships matter.
Sure, it means that I’ll end up following fewer people. I can’t magically double the amount of time that I have for interacting in social spaces. But those fewer people will mean more to me — and hopefully, I will mean more to them.
So there’s my promise, 2017. I’m going to be a better learning partner to people this year — and while it won’t solve global poverty or keep the Russians from taking over the rest of the world, it WILL encourage and empower more of my peers.
That has to have some value, doesn’t it?
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