Reflections of the Way Life Used To Be

The Habs won the Stanley Cup 30 years ago. I have no memory of the final game when they clinched the Cup. I must have watched it alone in the basement of my childhood home, trying to be as quiet as possible, as not to wake my step-father. It would have been a minor miracle that I was allowed to stay up to watch it to begin with; I had a very strict (and early) bedtime under normal circumstances, but I also had a major final exam the next day. Although I knew all of my friends would be watching at home, I couldn’t call any of them to celebrate, lest I be too loud, or the phone ringing waking up younger siblings at my friends’ houses.

I do remember school the next day, seeing each other and celebrating. I remember our science teacher, who lived and breathed the Canadiens and spent whatever money it cost to see every single playoff game at home, every year, looking worse for wear in his commemorative t-shirt and a massive smile on his face. I remember going to the parade with my then-boyfriend, my best friend, and her boyfriend/my best friend from swim team. We bailed an hour in to our math final exam, piled into my dad’s two-door red Dodge Colt hatchback, and drove downtown towards the end of the parade route. By the time the players got to us, they were do drunk they could barely stand.

These shared moments, I remember.

When The Tragically Hip played their last concert ever, streamed live, I was once again watching alone in my basement, far, far away from friends with whom I shared a strong bond with over and through this band. And yet, I have powerful memories of watching the concert, in no small part because I wasn’t, in fact, alone. While watching, I was texting that same best swim team friend with whom I had gone to the Stanley Cup parade. We had gone to countless Tragically Hip, Blue Rodeo, Barenaked Ladies, and other concerts together, and we had a small quasi-band together, too, with me on vocals, him on guitar. Between texts, I was live-tweeting the show, connecting with friends from across the country who I knew more or less professionally but also personally, and we shared our memories of the band together while we watched and celebrated and grieved.

How much stronger would my memories be of that Stanley Cup final if I had the ability to watch with my friends, even alone in my basement?

I think of these two moments as I reflect on Reclaim Open, the web that was, is, and could be. I think about where I am in my career, and where I want to go, what I want to do, how I could achieve it. The last time I was in this space was four years ago, the last time we were all able to get together around our shared love of the open web, digital pedagogy, and imagining different paths for ed-tech.

I wrote in the conclusion of my blog post reflecting on that experience: “I want us to start imagining our universities as institutions differently, so that our students may start imaging the world differently.” Of course, I forgot I had written those words, even if I vividly remember the conference itself. The words were written by myself, perhaps in my basement, perhaps in my office. That social web, as imperfect as it was, was already waning, and the words felt detached from any larger narrative. Maybe that’s another reason why blogging has fallen out of favor – we no longer feel like what we write in these spaces feels connected to a larger whole, but instead they are unlinked, unmoored, drifting. The opposite of their purpose, which is to be connected and connect.

I forgot that I wrote those words about imagining differently, even though they are exactly what I presented on at this year’s conference. The pandemic made the imperative to imagine a different future for higher education, especially around ed-tech. Many different positive, potential futures. More speculative exercises, less drudging acceptance of the current narrative. Four years ago I stated we could do better, imagine better. Four years later, I still (amazingly) believe that. And I come away, after the conference, with hope.

I’m going to see Barenaked Ladies in concert later this summer by myself. It isn’t the first concert I’ve done solo – my first solo concert was done by accident when I was in college, and I was at a festival and lost my friends. What a weird thing to try and describe to my kids, being separated from friends at a large event without a phone or way to connect, other than faith that we’d meet up again eventually, if only because we would have to head home in the same way. The other times were more purposeful – seeing Ben Folds in Chicago while I was there for a conference, or Barenaked Ladies (with Ben Folds!) in Cincinnati with a VIP package where I got to meet one of my favorite bands from my youth. I may have been alone, but it was still a shared experience with other fans of the acts, moving with strangers together with a shared love of the music. I also carry with my the memories that are connected to the music, the past conferences, the past experiences, the past shared memories that make the music meaningful, knowing that others have those similar connections.

I feel that way in any quasi-public space where I move by myself but aren’t alone. Museums, plays, movies, exhibits, memorials…even the experience of just walking through a space that I know holds meaning (so, you know, every space). I think about how we post pictures on social media and how this is an impulse to share, to connect, even if that impulse has been co-opted by branding and performativity and surveillance and datafication. When I was most alone, it was through social media that I found connection and my people. I wouldn’t be here without it. And yet, I didn’t tweet or take many pictures at the conference, save for a few to send directly to my kids. The web has changed and I have changed.

If there is one thing (and there is more than one thing) that Reclaim understands is that the overall experience matters when it comes to having an impact. It isn’t just getting the right people together, but it is how we experience being together that has a lasting impact. Before this conference, we had our own conference on our campus, and one of the keynotes spoke about care and feeding, about how when we come together we need to make sure that we are feeding, both literally and figuratively, one another, in order to sustain the work. I thought a lot about what she said while I was at Reclaim Open. How I felt cared for. How I felt fed, both literally and figuratively.

So we came together on the last night at a retro arcade, and sang our hearts out. I went up, twice, by myself to sing. And while others sang, I stood a little apart from everyone else, but still connected to them through this shared experience. I’ve grown more and more used to being a little apart from the larger group, for better or worse. I was not alone, I was not by myself. And when we danced at the end of the night, I was taken back to when I was in college and would go out alone to the bar our gang regulars at when I couldn’t sleep, and just dance alongside everyone else who was there and lost myself and found myself.

If I have a hope for the web that will be, it’s that we can still have moments like the ones I just had because we all connected online and were able to come together in person, if only for a moment. That any of this is possible now is a miracle. That any of this will continue to be possible is that work that needs to be done.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Mark Corbett Wilson says:

    I remember being in Digital Pedagogy Lab classes and sharing a beer in Fredericksburg. This year we connected via Discord. Not the same, but the learning continues.
    Last weekend I streamed a movie alone while texting with my friend who suggested we watch it together, though we are in different cities. I can highly recommend “Funeral Parade of Roses” (Japan 1969) for pride month viewing, a difficult but honest movie.

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