On Thursday I went to the very first 140 Characters Conference in Canada, right here in my hometown. I’d never been to a social media conference before, only academic ones, and it was…Different. I laughed, I cried, I had a great time, and I learned a lot. The real struggle will be remembering to apply the things I learned there in my everyday life, and especially to how I conduct myself online, including here. I want to make some changes over the next month, which will hopefully make things better. Either way they’re going to happen, I’m going to play around with some stuff, and see what works and what doesn’t. I need you to tell me what works and what doesn’t. We can talk about it, either on here, or on my Twitter. So here are the things I took away from 140.
First, I want to talk about what it is. The conference was founded by Jeff Pulver after he came to realize the profound reach and influence that social media, especially Twitter, can have on the world at large. The reach of our voices is so much greater than before, and with that carries certain new abilities and responsibilities. At 140, speakers take the stage and share their story about how social media changed their lives, for the better or for the worse. It was a day of stories about networks of strangers who become friends, and about the concern of losing yourself in that network, about building businesses through community, and recognizing the things that we have in common with other people.
One of the most interesting things about it was that it wasn’t about how to use social media. I learned some how from it, but for each of the speakers, it was about why they use it, and why the relationships they cultivate with it are important to them. I realized that I don’t focus on a lot of why here. I talk about why things are important within themselves, but I’ve never really focused on why they’re important to me. Why do I care if other people care about epistemology, or logic, or ethics? I want to spend some time on that, more than I do on my About page. This isn’t just about being wrong anymore, or putting ideas out into the world, Concept Crucible is about developing these ideas as they matter to you and I, and the only way to do that is to engage with each other. We all have our own crucible, where we put our ideas and try and scoop out the dross, and I want to do that together.
Another thing is the importance of stories. Narrative and anecdote is a powerful rhetorical tool, and one I’ve typically stayed away from here, because anecdotal evidence is actually detrimental to an argument. But the result is that it’s impersonal. People would get to know my philosophy, not me, because my philosophy was what mattered. Except that I am my philosophy. I do this stuff every day. It’s why I get up in the morning. It’s when I get up in the morning, and what I do with that time. And anecdotes don’t have to be used as evidence, they can be used as examples. They can illustrate a claim, but shouldn’t (and won’t) be used to support it. I’m not going to start telling stories, I have other places to do that (more on that in later weeks), but I can use stories to show why certain arguments are important to me. This is a new way that I can embrace vulnerability. This blog is about doing just that, but I can go further and do more, and I want to. Here my ideas are vulnerable, but not me, and that’s going to change. It’s not all sunshine and roses. I fall down, and I struggle to keep my cool and stay positive about things sometimes.
In short, by talking about why we do things, 140 has shaped how I do things, and I’m telling you this because I want you to hold me responsible for it. I want to engage with you, not just with your ideas about my ideas, or your arguments, but with you as a person. I said it, so I’m accountable. I’m committing to taking action to bring that about. If couldn’t begin to name all the people whose talks got me thinking, or who I talked with after and frantically scribbled down notes so I wouldn’t forget our conversation. I made some new friends, and got to know some old ones better. Everyone who was a part of that has my gratitude and best wishes. But 140 is over, and it’s time to start using what I learned.
So hi. My name’s Jim. It’s nice to meet you.