The last four months of 2012 was a difficult period in which three of my friends died. In September, my friend Jo suddenly passed away, leaving behind two young children and her husband, without warning. I still don’t know exactly what she died from. I found out about this because my best friend Jon contacted me on Facebook to tell me what had happened. We had all been part of an extensive circle of friends in London in the eighties, now scattered further afield but keeping in contact to one extent or another via social media. I hadn’t seen Jo for over twenty years, apart from opening the Guardian one day in recent years to see she was a contributor, but not face to face. So, finding her on Facebook was a delight and we had chatted about meeting up in the UK sometime soon, though hadn’t quite got round to it.

The news of her death came as something of a shock. Jon and I got together on Skype and reminisced about London days and how we had all been connected, recalling vignettes and Jon reminding me of how Jo had introduced him to the, now lost, love of his life. I was still trying to come to terms with this news when Jon also died a month later. It wasn’t entirely unexpected as he had had two rounds of chemotherapy to treat lymphoma. He had spent the period posting pictures of his NHS food to Facebook, exhorting followers to try and guess what it was he was being asked to eat. Nonetheless, nobody thought he was going to die, of pneumonia,  just when he did and Facebook played a big part in the outpouring of grief when he passed. Funeral arrangements, and discussions about how to conduct his memorial service and wake where all played out on the social network. This was when things began to take a slightly unsettling turn, however, as someone evidently had access to his Facebook account and odd things started to appear: references to him liking songs with the word ‘ghost’ in the title; an ex-amour appearing as a new relationship and the like, leaving some followers in his network distressed. I looked at the advice section about such circumstances and applied to have his Facebook account memorialised, preventing anyone from posting in his name, but allowing existing friends to add to his wall.

Nevertheless, the existence of the page was useful in helping to come to terms with his departure. Perhaps not surprisingly,  it was the timeline that was most significant. I spent an evening looking through the posts on his wall charting all the changes in his life since he had joined Facebook: his moving from London to Bristol, the various events and visits, his illness and treatment and the rest, right up until they stopped. I read the direct messages we had sent each other including, poignantly, the ones about Jo’s death the month before. I guess it was the latter day equivalent of dusting down the photo album at such times except, of course, that the photos were also there on Facebook, along with the odd video, tagged and titled and timelined.

I haven’t yet really come to terms with either of them dying so closely together, but the connectedness of social media and the way in which we were all able to support each other at such a distressing time was significant, I felt. Jon wasn’t a prolific Tweeter, but I read his Twitter contributions too and it helped remind me of his quick wit and skill with a crafted phrase, and this also made things easier.

Move along my Facebook timeline to the beginning of December, a mere three months after Jo’s death, and Rob, a friend from my adopted hometown here in Spain, is the next sad departure. He’d only joined Facebook in July of last year and hadn’t really embraced the idea of social networking, being old school, a voracious real life networker and in the process of retiring from his working life. He, too, died suddenly and the shock of this to his followers is also echoed on his timeline, in this case with YouTube posts reflecting his musical tastes and his popularity with his friends.

So what happens now that my friends are gone from the real world, but still present in my online communities? Those whose accounts were not memorialised are still appearing as suggestions as to ‘people you might know’ on other friends’ pages, one or two of whom have commented that they find this odd or unsettling. People still comment on their walls from time to time, as if they were talking to them, knowing fully that they’ve moved on. I find this a reasonable response and if it helps them to say goodbye, then that’s all to the good. Personally, I’ve created a Facebook sub category labelled ‘Deceased’ and moved them in to it, though ironically the memorialised account won’t allow me to do that, and I recently posted a birthday message on Jon’s wall, though I struggled to find the right words.

I’m glad that their accounts survive, even if sadly they do not. I sometimes take a look when I’m thinking about them, and it helps me to remember them as they were and move on. As time passes, if Facebook survives, and there is no reason to suggest it won’t even as it continues to morph into other iterations, its initial role of connecting people with each other across the globe will change too. The timeline adds an additional dimension to it, connecting people across time and space. Connecting, in a healthy and cathartic way, the living with the dead.

I was just overhearing a colleague talking about listening to radio programme archives using the BBC iPlayer. Being someone that has been a computer user since the days of MS_Dos, it came as no surprise to hear that he liked doing this. He did also mention in passing that he likes to attach a tape recorder to the computer and record the programmes; well, why not, I suppose, he’s always operated like this and sees no reason to change now. But part of me wants to object to the inefficiency of this procedure – save digital copies and listen to them on your portable device, or build up a backed-up digital archive for future listening pleasure. Add a simple media server and stream the archive around your home to any number of devices.

But then again, it’s none of my business, and if he wants to carry a cassette recorder around and listen to analogue tape recordings, then what on earth is wrong with that? Nothing of course, but my own interest in looking for ever new and more efficient affordances of technologies in an educational setting makes it difficult for me to feel comfortable about persisting in antiquated activities like this.

That is until I remember that a few months ago I bought a turntable for playing my old vinyl records. It does have a usb port on it though and will digitise the discs for storage and reproduction elsewhere🙂

Just read a twitter post from someone who thinks that they need to reapraise their Facebook usage.  I must admit that similar thoughts have been crossing my mind. Particularly after an unexpected rebuke from a work colleague. I feel increasingly uncomfortable about speaking out with certain people in my audience.
When people start to pass judgment on your personal thoughts as an extension of their professional role, it’s time to take stock. To avoid offence by defriending them, the limited profile seems the best option.
Boxee tv launches today. Not sure it has many advantages over building your own schedule from various sources. We shall see.

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The Twitter exploit provided some light relief from the stress of preparing for a live webinar presentation this weekend. It all turned out to be a fuss about very little, it but did make we aware that a current online, full-on, collaborative existence involves the expectation of a degree of hassle and the background threat of danger to your personal data. It does make life more interesting, but that could turn decidedly sour if your private information were compromised.

Of course, I found about this through Twitter, the backchannel to my life and a source of much of interest.

Interesting to see that a number of new business models are emerging lately in key digital areas. Condé Nast, the publishing house that acquired Reddit in recent years, are trumpeting their bold predictions that ‘in the future’ up to 40% of magazine sales will be on the iPad, while YouTube are looking to stream premium content via their platform at the end of the year. They already offer movies, and are looking at streaming TV programmes, having been testing for the last couple of days.

Google have also declared an interest in redefining the online TV market, at a time when a number of new hardware offerings are entering the market at the same time. Apple have just announced a slimmed down version of their AppleTV box, now retailing at about £99 with the emphasis on streaming rather than storage. Competitors are rushing to the table with new products that do pretty much the same thing, with Veebeam and new product maker Boxee appearing at the same time.

If all of this means that we can get access to a greater range of content at highly competitive prices, and that providers are realising that there is more to be gained from offering more and less from pursuing litigation, then maybe it is cautiously to be welcomed. As to the impact on education of any of the above, than we should all keep up with developments and ask relevant questions of each other on our blogs – micro or otherwise.

I’ve finally collated the data from the questionnaires about social media from our teens, and though the sample size wasn’t huge, the findings give consistently clear patterns – like 92 % being a member of  a social networking site, 91% being members of www.tuenti.es.

I’ll come back to analysis more soon but the focus group of four teens aged 16 was interesting in itself. When I asked the question ‘how important is being connected to you’, there was a sharp intake of breath at the mere suggestion that this could somehow be taken away. One girl said that if she had to live in a remote place with no internet connection, she’d rather die. I have some sympathy for her.