I grew up in Goshen, Indiana, a college town of about 20,000 people with many Amish and conservative Mennonites in the surrounding communities. Seeing horse-drawn buggies parked at the local Wal-marts (yes, there was one on each side of town) was not uncommon. I learned to love the simple quilt designs and homemade Dutch food, while appreciating the business and common sense displayed by those selling their wares.
Last month at the STC Summit, I had a great walk back through time, as if I was visiting an old neighborhood. Like many other attendees, I went across the street from the Philadelphia conference center to the market for lunch. Much to my surprise, many merchants were wearing conservative Mennonite prayer bonnets and dressed in handmade plain clothing, no buttons! I was immediately taken back to my childhood home in northern Indiana. The marketplace in Philly reminded me of visits with my parent and shopping in a large market in a town called Shipshewana. Has anyone else had such a moment of juxtaposition?
To further my reminiscing of my childhood closeness to the Plain orders, the first day of the conference, I read Howard Rheingold’s Wired magazine article, Look Who’s Talking, from 1999. The subtitle is “The Amish are famous for shunning technology. But their secret love affair with the cell phone is causing an uproar.” It’s about the Amish relationship with technology and community. A great read!
I was reminded of a discussion with one of my cousins. We didn’t have a TV for a few years when I was in fifth grade or so, and these cousins from Michigan inquired if we were Amish! My response? No, we’re not Amish, just taking some time off from TV ownership.
So imagine if you will my discovery of Clay Shirky’s blog entry, Gin, Television, and Social Surplus. In it he leads you to discover that Wikipedia’s creation and ongoing editing took about 100 million hours of human thought. Sounds like a lot of time, right? Many people ask, how does anyone have that much spare time to edit wikis, write blog entries, comment on social networking sites, and so on? Well, guess what. In the US alone, 200 billion hours of human time are spent watching television. Staggering thought.
My few childhood years without a television didn’t amount to any huge projects being completed, although I would guess I read faster and more hungrily because of it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against TV. I just choose to watch what I want when I want to. Our Tivo has been the best enabler of TV when I want it, and having the shows I want always available when it’s convienent to watch them. RSS feeds are like Tivo for me – web content when I want it, in abundance.
So that’s my story of going from surrounded by Amish and their considerations for technology in their community to technical writer considering the impact of collaboration and conversation and community on my role in the world of participatory media.
Am I to be a content curator or a community manager? Rachel Happe has a great blog entry titled, “Social Media is not Community” which brought a lot of clarity to my thoughts about the difference between the two roles. Thank you, Rachel! I don’t know yet where my role lies, but it’s a grand time to be reading and writing about it. I’d love to hear your thoughts.