On the other side of the world (Adelaide, Australia) from where I usually hang out, it can be quite intimidating to be in a different country knowing very few people. Yet Twitter has changed that significantly for me where some of my best friends in the world are literally from around the world. I have connected with some amazing people that have become more than just digital colleagues; they have become great friends. Yet I noticed something weird at #CEGSA2012 last week.
No one was a cartoon. Many of them looked like that at the beginning of the week before I met them, but by the end, that had mostly changed.
The thing that I noticed the last time I was in Australia and again this time, was that there were so many cartoon or picture avatars representing people that I had no idea who the people were that I was talking to until I landed and actually met them face-to-face. I will have to admit that although I could tell there were some extremely intelligent people that I was talking to, the idea of talking back and forth to a cartoon character or a picture online was a struggle. It just didn’t feel real.
So when I finally did meet with these amazing people and discussed the human side of the Internet, I challenged them to think about changing their avatar to a picture of themselves. As the conference continued, cartoons changed to people and you could feel a growing camaraderie at the conference as the conversation on Twitter amplified the conversation in the face-to-face setting. It was extremely powerful.
Although it is much easier to say than do, I understand why some people are nervous to post a real picture of themselves on the Internet because of many differing situations. But if you are comfortable, you should. I often hear conversations about how the Internet is dehumanizing our world yet the fake avatars don’t help.
This great article on “Friending cats and following eggs“, has been one of my favourites on this topic:
On social networks, you ARE your photo.
Your image is important!
The photo you choose to represent you says a great deal about who you are as an individual. It is your personal brand.
I love meeting people in person at conferences or cocktail parties and then connecting with them on social networks like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Sometimes I search people out and connect and other times they find me.
But when somebody has an image that is not an actual photo of them, I hesitate and usually do not connect.
So if you are involved in this crazy social media world, when you finally meet someone in person, do they recognize you? Do they connect with you? I have a strong belief that the best teachers are seen by their students as people who just happen to teach, not teachers who just happen to be people. I want to connect with people.
In the last week, I connected with an amazing educator who will now be a lifelong friend and colleague. Selena Woodward shared her own journey and discussed her change over the few days:
I wasn’t the only one either…. By the end of the CEGSA conference we had shouted out to a large number of new tweeps, eggs, logos and cartoons became human and the vibe of the conference changed …
I’m not suggesting, even for one minute, that members of CEGSA are not sociable people, however… the fact that we knew who we were talking to during the presentations meant that we could then continue those conversations over a cup of tea – face to face. Those virtual twitter connections became real-life connections. Now, that’s got to have an impact on the development of your support network. Hasn’t it?
It is not always easy to put yourself out there, but in my own experience, as you develop and build trust with your own network, it is easier to show both the successes and struggles.
I was reminded of this in Elisa Carlson’s powerful post about some of the struggles that she went through this year and how open and honest she was:
I will say right up front that this year was too difficult for me. I found it painful and intense. How’s that for honesty? I had so much to learn at times it was way too overwhelming. I had too many responsibilities to juggle and didn’t feel I could do anything well. My goal has always been to exceed expectations and to make a difference in the work that I do. On top of that my actual personal mission statement, “joyfully obeying the call” didn’t seem to be anchoring my world. I was losing most of the joy in the intensity of the workload and spent many days struggling to be grateful. I had a difficult time navigating all the relationships and since I wear my heart on my sleeve I would often feel personally hurt over matters that should not have seemed so significant. I have worked hard as a teacher, vice-principal and principal but never as hard as I have this past year to survive being a Director of Instruction. In some respects, it is but an act of grace that I have made it through the year.
I don’t think she would have been comfortable writing that as someone who was know as an “egg” to most. Knowing that there are genuine people out there past her own school district it creates a strength to share who we are.
Now I am not saying that all people that share a picture of themselves on the Internet are the people they represent themselves to be. That would be extremely naive.
It is just easier to connect and build trust with a person rather than an avatar.