July 2014

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Online buzz and a busy schedule

Posted: Tuesday, Apr. 24, 2012

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John Syme

John Syme graduated from Davidson College with a bachelor of arts degree in French in 1985. He worked as a general-assignment reporter at The Winston-Salem Journal, where he later wrote freelance travel stories during his first solo cross-country road trip in the summer of 1989. He worked as a copywriter at a Charlotte advertising agency, as a research translator at a French nutrition center outside Paris, and as a politics and education newspaper reporter in Charlotte. He returned in 2001 to Davidson, where he is senior writer, alumni editor and instigator of the "Road Trip 2009" blog, which evolved into his current blog, "Daybook Davidson."

I just got back in the office after four days out of town, and I already feel like that woman in the Angie’s List commercial who says, “I’m busy, busy, busy, busy, busy!” Ah, shaddap, lady in Angie’s List commercial. Let me tell you how busy I am….

No, seriously, I’m not going on one of those tedious rants about how “I’m so busy.” I merely said I feel that way, to make a point.

First, it occurred to me that I didn’t feel this crazy-making way while I actually was busy traveling to Chicago and back, nor often when I am actually busy performing the physical tasks and duties of daily living here in lovely Lake Norman.

I only first noticed the return of this overwhelming sense of busy-ness when I sat down at my computer. Hmmm.

It is perhaps no accident that I am more acutely aware of this crazy-making feeling after this particular conference, which was on social media in higher ed. Below is a redux (since I’m so busy) of a conference blog post I sent out through Davidson College channels last Thursday. Lots of food for thought in these topics about how today’s media landscapes (social and otherwise!) are affecting our perception of the world around us. Enjoy... If you’re not too busy.

CHICAGO, April 19—I started my day in a State Street Starbucks, with this serendipitous discovery of stylish wit and trenchant pith from the Chicago Reader‘s Michael Miner, “The fine line between journalism and viral marketing: What traditional media can learn from Betty White, Old Spice and Joan of Arc.” Worth the read for anyone who wants to feel smart and cutting-edge for a moment. Good writing.

Back in the Sax Hotel (like!) conference room, I’m pretty sure I’m one of the few people whose title has the word “writer” in it. How refreshing! I’m at the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) Social Media Conference. Here, I am known as a “content provider”— in an age when, as Miner’s article above expresses so well, dimensions of interplay between form and content are proliferating exponentially. There’s something to think about. You go first.

Meantime, herewith a few broad, random, minimally processed, pen-and-paper conference note nuggets, before I take a sweet springtime jog down to Lake Michigan to hunt and gather a Chicago ’dog or two for lunch.

Spoiler Alert: “It’s not Friday!” Friday’s sessions will include a look at future social media trends, so presenters are instructed to stay in the present on Wednesday and Thursday. If they start talking about the future of social media, we’re supposed to yell “It’s not Friday!” But what seems to strike the whole room at once, maybe even faster than that, is that the social media landscape is moving so fast that if we so much as pause to figure out what’s present and what’s future, it’s past. This won’t hurt a bit, did it?

“Anything interesting being said about us?” One of the presenters asked this question in passing, about the conference Twitter feed #casesmc scrolling past on two big screens up front. Crickets. I guess we were all too busy Tweeting ourselves and trying to decipher the resultant URL hurl to take time to answer. Clearly, form and content are not yet happily married.

“Let our networks do our work for us.” Andrew Gossen, senior director for social media at Cornell, offered eloquently compelling insight on the social media bell curve’s move through various tipping points, technological, psychological and otherwise. One of my takeaways: Volume of data is increasing and division of labor between human and algorithm is reconfiguring. So a critical task for becomes to meta-manage the shift itself, and relinquish micro-managing every speck of digital data. Let go or go home. Personal note: We control freaks are “late adopters.” If that’s not clear, call my answering service and I’ll courier you a mimeograph when I get back to the office next week.

Social Media Nation Gossen also mixed it up a little and a lot by showing maps and charts with the populations of Facebook and Twitter represented along the same axes as, say, the U.S. and China. If the world is flat, and social media is part of the world, then mapping behaviors between real time and space and virtual time and space—and vice versa!—is merely the next step in integrating the two realms. 1984 or Alice in Wonderland? You decide.

www.transitchicago.com As my head started to swell up and get warm from all this cutting-edge-of-the-looking-glass thinking, I glanced out the window and saw the comforting sight of a plain old city bus go by—its Web site emblazoned atop it and someone inside doubtless looking up their next transfer on a smart phone. Now, on the one hand, this indeed makes more sense than the old way of having to collect schedules and maps in advance. On the other hand, it means we have to acknowledge—now in a different way than ever in the history of our species—that, as usual, we don’t really have any idea of where we’re going until we set out.

Right now, I’m going to pull on my tennies and set out for the shores Lake Michigan.

I’m pretty sure it’s “thataway.”

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