When Maha Bali asked me whether I fancied doing a bit of "virtual buddying" for Virtually Connecting, I was really pleased that I would have an excuse to concentrate a little more than in the past on what was going on in the conference taking place in Manchester.
The fact that it was taking place in Manchester also strengthened my attachment to the conference as I had studied there and had lived there for over seven years.
I could really situate the proceedings, somewhere along Oxford Road...
The identification was deepened by the fact that I had already met a number of the people lined up by Maha and Rebecca Hogue to connect in the hangouts.
I had already met Steve Wheeler and Catherine Cronin in Plymouth at the Pelecon conference in 2012, and Teresa Mackinnon has been my close colleague and friend for over four years for the CLAVIER project.
Then there were other people who I had already met in hangouts. Maha, I had hung out with during #rhizo14 and in a session for Connected Learning TV and EdConteXts, Keith Hamon and I had had a number of #clavpicnics with Terry Elliott the year before (was it so long ago?), Autumm Caines, Suzan Koseoglu and Wendy Taleo I had met up the day before to prepare for the Virtually Connecting sessions.
I had been somewhere there with them, at the same time.
Then it starts getting confusing for me...
Swarms and blurring boundaries
I had never ever spoken to or been in a synchronous hangout with Rebecca, Sarah Honeychurch, Bonnie Stewart, Alan Levine, Jonathan Worth, Amy Burvall, Martin Hawksey, Lisa Hamershaimb before. I had, however, previously watched them speaking in previous assorted hangouts, videos.
Sarah and Rebecca, Maha and Keith had been fellow swarmees during work on an article for Hybrid Pedagogy and associated (ad)ventures.
Alan, Jonathan, and Amy, I had come to know through Connected Courses.
Martin Hawksey has been a constant life-saver to me for all things social network analysis.
Martin Weller, I was familiar with from some of his work, his blog and a short appearance in #rhizo14 concerning a shed in Arkansas (what the hell was that about?).
Stephanie Loomis, I had come across during CLMOOC.
Sue Beckingham I had sort of come across during the #blimage thingy via Steve Wheeler.
Others were completely new to me: Kate Bartlett, Rebecca Smallshaw, Cinzi Pusceddu, Rayane Fayed, Rachel Hammel, Joseph Murphy, George Station (though maybe he was familiar too because of Digiped?) Laura Czerniewicz but were no doubt connected to others that I knew.
In the playground
When I look at this, it seems that there was, to use a word Martin Weller used in one of the hangouts, an identifiable 'gang' that I had been playing with and another part of a same (?) ever fluctuating and diversely connecting gang-crowd, some of whom I had been observing on the other side of the playground, (I can't think of a better way of explaining it) with whom I felt, I feel attachment.
Is this real or virtual attachment?
We are surely not attached for the same reasons or with same perceptions...or are we?
I am not quite sure if I were to take a Hawkseye (as in Martin Hawskey) view of the network if I would understand better the complex patterns of which I am a tiny but, for me at least, signifying part.
We are no doubt attached even when we are not aware.
Whose we is we?
Whose they is they?
Whose I am I?
Who am I now?
Who was I then?
What does all of 'this' mean, taken as a whole? (Where do I draw the line for this?)
There is perhaps a latent desire to connect more closely in some way, or at least to announce some sort of tribal belonging.
We no doubt recognise each other by those or what we have in common.
What is this swarming tribe of which I am a part?
Is this real, is this virtual, is this...?
Tribe, seems to me to be too rigid a term.
Swarm seems rather less than human.
Where or what is our commonality?
Where do we find common ground?
Coming back to ground ALTc
When I look at this, with a little distance... there are a number of things which stike me.
1) I have many real friends who I have never met offline. These friendships are not virtual.
2) I am not sure that I would have been able to have so many useful conversations with these people had I been in Manchester for the conference.
3) I am sure that the effort invested in Virtually Connecting and the engagement made both deepened my ties with the people present (in the hangouts) and with the conference proceedings.
4) I developed immediately transferrable skills in the setting up of hangouts on air, the animation of discussions, and in dealing with distant time-zones.
5) I gained enormously from working in a team. You learn much about people when you do more than discuss or exchange tweets or comment on blog posts. You learn about their professional qualities, you learn from them and expand your own knowledge.
6) None of this would have happened, perhaps, if I had not been able to engage with a 'gang' in #rhizo14.
7) There is something quite absurdly moving about being together with people who have made the effort to get up at five o'clock in the morning, to stay awake until three o'clock in the morning, to be with somebody in spring when I am in (he hesitates...where am I?)..er autumn, to be with someone in a place where it never snows, with someone in a place where it often always rains, with someone in a place where it often always snows, with someone in place where the cockrel crows, with a bunch of people in a hotel bar in a place which used to be my home, with others off-screen, who I have met before online, looking after a little girl who appears in hangouts with her mum, with at just that moment my little daughter who appears in her bedroom to say hi.
8) I am left with new attachments, a playlist memory aid, a number of impressions of a conference and a swarm of difficult questions.
Memories at play
So, these were memorable moments, these moments remind me of being in another place rehearsing for a play.
We were a team brought together around a play.
We brought ourselves to the play and the play changed.
We were a little world for a moment.
We were somewhere else.
We were in between.
In between is really no where you can go alone.
Real place out of time
It's a real place that I remember.
We were there...
Connecting places in between
And then it came back to me.
This place, I had already given a name.
I went to Plymouth in 2012 "In search of Nomad's Land".
I came back to the edge of chaos in my daughter's bedroom, with its pink curtains, with its curiously arranged toys, I sat down with a tame tiger and I knew that I had found it.
The density of the 'network' in the post became apparent to me when I started inserting links to the various nodes which underpin it.
Nomad's Land is clearly of indiscriminate size, has an ever fluctuating population, and is in a time zone where time itself has gone crazy...