So, what is it that makes the web so powerful? I don’t think that it’s any one particular thing that makes the web so powerful. It’s a combination of characteristics that makes the web powerful in unique ways for every individual. So, I just typed those first two sentences of my introduction and BAM! it occurs to me that: Maybe that’s what makes the web so powerful…personalization!
I’ll never forget my introduction to the internet. Thanks to graduate student status, I was allowed access through a dial-up modem at home (remember that sound?). I had my own email address and everything! But no one else that I knew had an internet connection, let alone an email address. I remember a good friend of mine who lived far away saying something to me like,”If only we were rich and famous, we could get internet and use email to keep in touch.” That was circa 1995. I sheepishly admitted that I had internet and an email address. She was shocked, then very impressed.
From my very first interactions with the worldwide web, it has always allowed me to reinforce my personal interests and to pursue new avenues of interest. My first discovery beyond email was the listserv! Specifically the ST:TNG listserv. Nothing like a bunch of trekkies posting questions about scientific accuracy, discussing the prime directive, and buying and selling collectible cards for the Star Trek Customizable Card Game. After that I discovered the listserv of the AATF (American Association of Teachers of French) and another for sharing vegetarian recipes. Reading the black and white textual representation of the thoughts of people who shared my interests was so phenomenal! My initial steps into the World Wide Web provided me with access to niche groups who shared my very own personal interests.
As email became more prevalent, staying connected took on a new meaning. I could easily communicate with my mom on the other side of Lake Michigan on a daily basis. This was a far more cost-effective option than lost-distance calling! When my son was born in 1997, keeping her updated with the various developments in his life was so easy. I could send her a quick email detailing recent happenings and press send in the middle of the night. By the time my daughter joined the family in 2000, we owned a digital camera. This allowed us to share with the proud grand-parents a visual support to the words typed in the email. Now I was able to share my personal observations, thoughts, and challenges with people I trusted and who were directly involved in my life.
When embarking on the world of international education in 2003, staying in touch with people from various walks of my life who were located in various corners of the world was simplified by email and online chat options. Because my mom and I are both fast typists, we could carry on a keyboarded conversation via Yahoo!Messenger at much the same rate as we could speaking on the phone or face-to-face. The connectivity afforded by the internet has become a life saver in the life of an international teacher/expat. So much of my personal life on two continents can easily be managed at one computer keyboard with an internet connection. I have access to teaching resources, professional development opportunities, shopping, bill payment, banking, picture sharing, travel planning, and the list goes on…Again, I am able to customize all of my web use to meet my personal needs.
Now, more than ever, the power of personalization that the web allows has far surpassed those from the earliest days of access. Personalization is a great paradox of the web in that it’s a great advantage while being a great disadvantage. The advantage lies in the ability to create my own personal bubble. Facebook is my rolodex of former students, colleagues, friends from various chapters of my life, and varying degrees of family members. Twitter is my Professional Learning Network allowing me to pick and choose whose online voices I hear on a regular basis. Every time that I log onto Amazon, I am offered a variety of suggestions “inspired by [my] viewing history” (which is really the viewing history of everyone who lives in my home). I choose my path on the web every day and the path suits my personal passions, interests, inquiries, moods, and whims. The downside is that I can avoid opinions that are different than my own, blot out political posts that I find irritating, and ignore that there are other ways of thinking…if I so choose. Creating my own personal web allows me to be one-sided, as well as venturing into uncomfortable places that challenge my thinking, beliefs, and values.
The web offers me information NOW! The web allows me to learn independently. The web allows me to communicate with individuals and groups of my choosing. The web is mine!