During a run through Riverside Park on the Upper West Side of Manhattan yesterday, I noticed a community garden.
An older man tended flowers hanging on until the first freeze. Two women – sisters? mother-daughter? – shot pictures of each other among the fading blooms.
This particular community garden is a slice of green in a sliver of a park in one of the busiest cities in the world. A city that purportedly never sleeps. An information nexus.
The tableaux represents what I wish I had been able to accomplish as a teacher and what I fear is becoming even more challenging in classrooms: providing students with opportunities to become digitally literate and engaged citizens of the 21st century – to navigate busy crowded spaces – while also elevating the importance of smelling the roses. Of knowing where to find roses to smell. Of knowing how to grow roses. Of growing roses.
My friend Allan Hoffman talks about “distracted living” – the inability to focus on enjoying the moment and understanding the critical importance of our human, social networks, as we embrace the power of our online versions.
I feel lucky in that many of the teachers I follow on twitter: Bud Hunt, Troy Hicks, Peter Kittle, and many many other colleagues also live this duality. I see pictures of them with their children at the playground or after anti-hunger road races and am reminded to force myself to become unwired, too.
In fact, I would argue that they’re successful as disseminators of information about social media because they’re willing and able to engage with a wide range of people. Because they appreciate the offline moments.
Robert D. Putnam wrote the seminal book, “Bowling Alone,” about the ways in which our current cultural state can atomize and isolate us.
The health of a community’s bowling leagues, he argued, was a good indicator of its social capital. I’m sure community gardens are also a signal of healthy social capital.
If we can incorporate bowling leagues, community gardens, front porches, with our online communities, so that both not only co-exist peacefully but share an exalted place in our lives, then I’ll know that we’ve succeeded in constructing what I call “slow-cial networks.”