I can tell it's love. Because given the choice between burbs and cities I can't abide either. This no-choice-at-all is called Pioneer Valley (and that's the path I've chosen). The connection runs deeper than the infatuation of floods or famines. It's given me more than any lover, credential, or birth rite can bear. That's the simple embrace of community.
It's a zagging of offshoots. It's a smattering of vocal opinions beholden to even louder lives in motion. The Valley residents that inspire this love don't just think something would be a good idea when they get around to it but make the time. I hear the words, see the actions, sense the community, and feel a group participation number coming on. And it sounds like this:
- We can't make the money here but we can make the time -- and the effort to engage the neighbors, encircle the orbits, and divide up the work.
- That's the thinking behind helping Valley folks become more "Knowledge-ABLE."
- That's the term defining the web-based research skills and actionable outcomes convened by the Society of Useful Information.
- We meet each Thursday evening in the Sawmill River Arts Gallery at the Montague Book Mill.
- Click here to sign up for an upcoming session.
Who are the de-facto members of this Commonweal? They're the local educators, students, small business owners, web designers, social workers, and policy advocates. They don't need more connect time but better connections to their own research, customers, funding sources, and the powers to size up the stature, positions, and end games of the folks they'll be seated across from in their next business trips, job interviews, and power negotiations.
One of the other benefits of my Valley allegiances is that it only takes unmasking those affections in public for the media to cover these community-based meet-ups. Last week I landed on the front page of the Greenfield Recorder and Daily Hampshire Gazette's reprint of the same piece. And I didn't have to hack into any phones or call in any favors. The reporter Chris Curtis did a stellar job of recounting the hit-and-miss trial-by-errors of "the founding and sole member" of the Society for Useful Information. What could be more ground-breaking and less pressing than teaching to an impartial observer and "publicity-shy Amherst area consultant?"
As lifelong friend and chief rhetoric connoisseur Terry Canade remarked later on email:
"Your writer/editor was good at distilling quotes which sound like you, move the story along, and intrigue the reader."
The proof in Canade's assessment lies in last week's attendance. I drew double digits -- practically standing room only (and none of them repeat members). None of them were entirely clear on what to expect but they all showed up assured that the full cost was absorbed by the gas eaten up to occupy "a place that's impossible to find." Two hours later they had a grasp of the virtues of...
- Social bookmarking (exhibit: Delicious tagging and commercial-free search)
- Getting from a search ocean to a proprietary pond (exhibit: child molesters and malpractice doctors)
- Visualization tools (exhibit: connecting the vectors between events and stakeholders through Silobreaker and Muckety)
- Word algebra (exhibit: query formation techniques that combine a handle on semantics, syntax, and search operators)
- Credibility factors (exhibit: Site Explorer to compare self-directed and externally triggered attention)
- Timeliness (exhibit: the /date slashtag in Blekko search)
I was exhausted by the end of the session. I was compelled to do most of the talking because I didn't have prior knowledge of attendees search projects or the class size. I learn lots more when we can move beyond lecture and offer the group therapy benefits that come with articulating our silent confessionals to Google. Bringing voice to the discovery process is far more rewarding that the best engineered web destination. To paraphrase Karl Weick (or perhaps E.M. Foster):
"How do I know what I click on until it clicks with those I'm searching (or reaching out to?)"
We'll know when curiosity leans forward and attendees find themselves returning with theories to test. That's when the class will find its voice. That's when the classroom will evolve into a round table and participatory search will become the key to self-education online. For now, crowding around the communal browser is a throwback to the early days of TV. Soon perhaps, it will be a leap forward to a collective experience that is anything but placid or unquestioning.
Just like the community of my affection.