Social media, communication and me

The illiterate of the twenty-first century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn. – Alvin Toffler
My last academic contribution was a chapter in a book where I looked at the ways I had sought to communicate probation over a 40 year period. I have always believed that effective communication is vital to getting your point across but, vitally, must enable two-way communication so listening and learning from others is just as vital in the communication cycle. In recent years the use of blogs, twitter and other social media have potentially extended the modes of communication as a complement to traditional forms. Some of these new modes increase the possibility though of one-way communication where meanings can be misconstrued without the interactive element of conversation. Email has been particularly problematic creating arguments often simply out of poor written English and misinterpretation. There may also be a tendency to be more extreme in the written word without the immediate comeback and of course this risks a breakdown in communication if it is simply used as a tool to inflame debate rather than engage in a genuine learning process. But how can all this learning help me in retirement? How and with whom should I communicate?
Once my children left home around the millennium I spent my time up to retirement so focused on work-related communications I neglected the domestic sphere. This work dynamic drove me, no work, no communication. Home was simply a refuge from work and whilst I had plenty of friends and family with whom communication was rich and still is, the house did (does) not have casual callers as I was never reliably here. Upon retirement I have worried that isolation could easily result if I got stuck at home.
I have of course the potential benefit of newer communicative modes mentioned above. Social media has the potential to transform communication patterns and can offer a buttress against social isolation. Take texting for instance. I can be at home and my son or daughter or other friends will text. It’s a contact and can lead to more communication depending on how you answer. I have engaged with the full range of social media – Facebook, twitter, blogging, Skype, messenger, texting, what’s app, through to the now old hat, emailing. I need to remind myself that good communication should be two way and there is a risk in social media that it becomes a one way mode, a way of asserting stuff but lacking the engagement in conversation. I think on the whole social media creates new opportunities for communication, though this has to be worked at, they are distinctive and not to be dismissed simply because they are new. I have many friends of my age who remain somewhat agnostic about these new forms of communication, indeed at times hostile. There will always be sceptics and luddites. I am old enough to remember when having home phones was a novelty and resisted so change can be difficult. But it is frustrating that some of my age group have such a dismissive attitude to social media, not all but sufficient that I have to consider how I communicate to each individual after I have recalled their (non)use of social media. I try to encourage this new media but do understand the limitations in communication in these new forms but I think they all have a part to play. Let me give three examples – tablets, blogging and blipfoto.
In 2011 I spent my first Christmas out of the UK. I reached Christmas lunch with my daughter 8 hours before the UK. As our day began to wind down around 5 pm, UK was waking up. I chatted on FB to many who I would simply not have spoken to that day. It was a bit of home which linked me to the UK. Through Skype (another new communicative mode) I spoke with family and got to share for a few moments their day. I felt linked and connected, though the communications were a bit halting, it gave me a link across 7500 miles to family and friends. My daughter talked endlessly to friends on FaceTime and Skype. We enjoyed our Christmas enriched by these communications.
My second example is blogging. I believe that my thoughts and ideas get to more people through this medium than would be the case in more traditional diaries or reflections in magazines. I recognise it is an example of a one way mode of communication and so do relish feedback and debate. If I have hit a chord or made someone think I have communicated. It is feedback that enables my own learning and that must be the main point of communicating at all. I am getting about 60-70 visitors each week which is great and remember it is easy to set it up so you get an email reminder when each blog comes out!
I talked about blipfoto last week. I have learnt so much from this photo-a-day site. I have learnt to communicate better visually and ‘seen’ more by observing and capturing scenes I previously missed. The diary element gives me an important log of my day and reading the diaries of others I can appreciate the rich and varied lives we all lead. I have ‘friends’ from these interactions even though I have not met any at all. The site was under threat a year ago and was saved by the community itself. Yesterday’s picture below was my thanks for this community crowd funding. 

So I have no doubt that social media has helped my connectedness in the world as I live in my home in splendid isolation. I do not get casual callers, i don’t really know my neighbours and with a tinge of regret, as I don’t really drink beer any more, the pub is not my alternative lounge. So the new media helps but I do need to work to get beyond the slightly fractured nature of communications on FB or twitter. It is a complement not an alternative and thus I must make sure as the wider world restricts for me my inner world around the home is open to expansion and communication, after all if I stop learning and developing I lose an essence of me that has driven my adulthood. So please call if passing I like communicating face to face!

This week’s key photos.

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