In the past month I’ve found myself paralyzed in regards to social media, both personally and professionally. Whenever I peak into my feeds I’ve been easily overwhelmed by the content I see: deluges of RESOURCES FOR “ONLINE LEARNING1,” endless interludes of stay-at-home inanities and banalities, and then literal death and suffering, since underneath all of this inconvenience, opportunism, and political posturing it turns out there is an actual tragic pandemic that is taking lives.
I haven’t known how to contribute to this world, and ultimately decided the best way to contribute would be to just stay quiet. Or maybe I just choked and failed by dropping out of this resource-sharing, curating, connecting game at the very moment when it was suddenly THE THING TO DO.
A couple of Sundays ago the weather was wonderful and I tried to get my kids to go outside with me on a walk or a hike or even just a drive, and they didn’t want to do it (this was the third day in a row I had invited them on such an excursion), so ultimately I went on a drive by myself. I headed east of Salt Lake for a particular side canyon dirt road I know that isn’t too high in elevation and that I had always found pretty much deserted when I visited in the past. I wanted to be able to socially isolate, and ever hopeful, scope it out to see if the snow had melted enough for a hike there with my kids on another day. When I arrived, the parking on the side of the road was full. There were far more people there at that moment than the collective number of all the people I had ever seen in all my previous visits to this place over the past 15+ years. Families and groups of people were out walking up and down this dirt road, with unleashed dogs running everywhere. One walking person, whose dog had just run in front of the car in front of me, almost getting hit and causing all traffic on the road to just stop for an awkwardly long period of time, loudly complained into my open window, “I don’t know why everyone wants to drive down this road TODAY!” just as a cyclist zoomed in between us and all the cars, dogs, and walkers as well. It was jarring and I felt exposed, and although technically I guess everyone was maybe keeping the 6 feet rule beyond their own families and groups it felt like the exact opposite of social distancing. I realized I had made a mistake and should have just stayed home, sat in my backyard or at my desk with the window open. I’m privileged to have these things, especially right now.
Turns out my 7yo daughter, the one we generally think of as the big extrovert in a mostly introvert family, hates video calls. She doesn’t want to be seen on them, whether it is with her grandparents, her cousins, or her teacher and classmates. She doesn’t want to converse with people. She finally got a little used to them by doing one with her brother from different rooms of our house. She spent the entire time just making goofy faces and noises at him until he laughed. (Didn’t take long because she is really funny, to be honest.) The next week after that she did join in a chat with her cousins, but never showed herself on screen. At one point in the chat she went outside on our old trampoline and put down the tablet with her microphone muted and the camera facing the sky, lay down next to it, and just listened to the chat. At another point she employed a small bunny rabbit puppet as a bonkers surrogate that would jump sideways into view and hop around in front of her brother’s face making ridiculous noises.
A curious thing I’ve noticed about myself is that the social networks I’m most consistently active on are those where I don’t actually know anyone or interact with them in any kind of way beyond following, reading, or maybe “liking” their posts. During this time of my social media confusion and my silence on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and other places where I actually know some people, I’ve still been faithfully logging and reviewing the movies I watch on Letterboxd, where I know no one (except one old co-worker who doesn’t post excessively) and get very little response from my posts. I continue to faithfully scrobble all my music listening on last.fm, where I likewise know no one and interact with virtually no one.
A few months ago I spent a fair amount of time thinking about what I might post on this very website and started adding things here semi-consistently, but I was barely sharing it out at all anywhere else. It was kind of my secret spot. Then I shared a couple of things on twitter and facebook and soon after that I heard from a some people face-to-face that they had looked at the site. I got weirded out and my enthusiasm strangely waned. I mean, theoretically a primary reason to have a website and share things on it is at the very least with the intention or hope that other people might look at it, right?
Two weeks after it was expected, my 9yo son still hasn’t finished the first main lesson page2 he was supposed to do at home. These pages are a combination of art and writing created by students on lusciously thick 11x17 paper, collected throughout the year, then sewnbound by the teacher and presented back to the student in a collection at the end of the school year. For the time being, we were to take a picture of the finished page and email it to his teacher. I believe this is the only assignment of this distance learning period for which she has requested such evidence of it being completed.
He colored the borders and drew the art on the top half of the page. He drafted the 5-sentence paragraph on the process of turning wool into cloth in his writing notebook, with only a single spelling error—
sheer for shear—which he quickly corrected and added to his personal dictionary as per teacher instructions. He carefully wrote the first sentence of that paragraph in cursive on the lesson page. It was pretty much lunchtime, and he took a break for a minute “to imagine.” A week later he was still imagining.
I thought that sharing lots of digital resources was kind of my thing. I thought that communicating and connecting with people mainly online was kind of my thing. Turns out, maybe I was wrong. Maybe I’m not actually that good at it. Maybe I don’t actually like it or want it. Yet I keep thinking about it. I don’t quite know my path forward, but I’m going to start by posting this, finally, and then just maybe start sharing things again without overthinking? Yeah, right.
TL;DR- I was into social distancing and digital learning before they were cool, but now you all have come and ruined my scene.
Or maybe I’m losing my edge.3
Lists of resources, and lists of lists of resources, and calendars of live stream events, and google drive folders filled with google docs containing links to these lists of lists, all being shared by edtech vendors and educelebrities and enthusiastic library listserv participants and cousins on Facebook who I haven’t seen in a decade or two.
The image below was my original starting point for this post:
- I guess I had to out myself here sooner or later as a public school district employee who is totally devoted to the public school project but whose kids attend a Waldorf charter school. It’s all my wife’s fault—she was interested in Waldorf education before I ever met her, and wanted to get involved as soon as she found out about a Waldorf school opening up in Salt Lake—and I am happy with my kids’ education there. This distance/digital-mediated learning poses a particularly weird challenge for Waldorf teachers, by the way, but that’s a whole different blog post (or maybe handwritten letter copied from a handwritten journal entry?)
Made a tweet thread in association with this post, and just wanted to document it here.
TL;DR- I was into social distancing and digital learning before they were cool, but now you all have come and ruined my scene.— Joshua Whiting (@jdwhiting) April 18, 2020
*by THEY I just mean whoever has been filling my feeds and inboxes with headlines instructing me to keep a COVID-19 journal. (I never actually clicked or read any of those things.)— Joshua Whiting (@jdwhiting) April 18, 2020
**by COOL I mean rendered absolutely critical behavior by an unprecedented worldwide pandemic.— Joshua Whiting (@jdwhiting) April 18, 2020