A-ha moments

The network saved the shoes

My daughter recently turned 3 and became an instant “three-nager.” Her 2s weren’t so terrible so the sudden onset of tantrums in her first week as a 3 year old was unexpected. Plus, her routine was messed up after a week and a half of travel across the Northeast for family vacations. The latest drama happened last Thursday when my husband had daycare drop-off duty. To make a very long story short, they lost one of her favorite purple shoes along their walk to school. She got to school wearing a pair of shoes, but the lost shoe was from an extra pair they had to bring because she insisted that she wear a “fancy” pair of shoes that aren’t good for playground play. This was only a big deal because the pair of purple shoes that went missing are among her favorites and they were a splurge purchase. So when I got the text that one shoe had been lost, I made a post in the Lost and Found section on Hamilton’s Nextdoor.com site. By the end of the day before I had left for work, word came via Nextdoor that the director of her daycare had her shoe! Our daughter didn’t even know that it had been lost. Crisis averted.

screenshot of my post to Nextdoor
The saga summed up.

Its not clear how the shoe was found and whether Nextdoor.com or the cute name tags in her shoes saved the day, but this saga got me thinking about online social networks. It reminded me of a time in graduate school when I found a lost student ID card outside of my apartment. I averted a crisis for them by looking them up in the┬áCornell directory to get in touch to return their card. At that time, I really didn’t think about how technology had made it so easy to find and meet them in person. It was like second nature; you find something with someone’s name on it, you look them up on the internet (or in this case an online student directory). But now that I’m in this new instructional design role, I’ve become more aware of how the web has created new opportunities for social connection that didn’t exist before. For example, what would my parents have done back before the internet if I had lost my shoe back in 1989 when I was a 3 year old? If I had lost my shoe en route to pre-school way my parents probably never would have been able to find it. Last week, 4,000+ users of Nextdoor.com in Hamilton knew that my family had lost a shoe. I was able to communicate that message out the community in about a minute. My parents would probably have had to put up signs along the route to school or take out an ad in the newspaper to let my hometown community know I had lost my shoe, and even then I’m not sure if it would have been found.

What I’ve found really intriguing since last Thursday is that my Nextdoor post fostered really great face-to-face conversations with people. The first happened Thursday evening. My family was coming home after an evening stroll and as we were walking by an acquaintance’s house, she yelled across the street to ask if we had found the shoe. We hadn’t interacted for a few months, but she knew we had lost the shoe that day. We told her we did and we all laughed, which made for a really delightful interaction at the end of a long day. Had it not been for that post, which gave us something to talk about, I’m not sure we would have interacted otherwise. The second conversation happened at a playdate over the weekend, when my friend shared that my post gave her inspiration to lead her son on a scavenger hunt for my daughters’ shoe, which then led to her son telling my daughter and I all about it. Coming from a 2 year old, it was a great story.

I initially wanted to write about the lost shoe saga because I thought it demonstrated the power of online platforms and social networks for finding and exchanging goods and services (among other outcomes), tools which didn’t exist back when I was a toddler. This all aligns with connected learning that positions the internet as providing new opportunities for teaching and learning that didn’t exist before, just like my parents never had access to Nextdoor. But in wrapping up, I’m left wondering why online discussion boards that I had set up in my own courses never seemed to lead to interesting in person conversations during class. What was it about my Nextdoor post that generated such great conversations for me afterwards? Maybe it was that these 2 people know me and my daughter and I just happened to see them soon after. Or maybe it was the drama of a toddler losing just one shoe on the way to school (how did that shoe get lost anyways?). Then again, there was a lot of drama in the content we covered in my course and that students wrote about online (e.g. a documentary about the Standing Rock protests). Who knows, but the instructional designer in me will never look at those purple shoes in the same way again…