Wednesday, October 17, 2012

"Surviving" Earthquakes and Viral Education

I heard about it; I did not feel it.  Apparently, I missed the not-so-epic earthquake of New England.  I was in my basement apartment engaged in conversation--I guess I just figured it was the hot air bellowing from me (or indigestion?).  But New England witnessed a 4.5 magnitude earthquake in Maine that was felt down through Massachusetts.

Like many people who missed the earthquake, I found out about it when Facebook updates exploded with references to it.  Dozens of friends were asking Facebook if their world was just rocked.  Enough asked to figure out that yes, indeed, there was an earthquake, even before the official notice went out.  It was pretty interesting to come to Facebook some 20 minutes after the event to discover the event and witness everyone else discovering the event.
But what struck me as absolutely fascinating was how quickly the meme-machine went into action.  Within 20 minutes, people were posting amusing pics about the incident.  It was a typical self-deprecating response with a bit of post-modern twists to it as can be seen in the screenshot to the left.  But around 8:15PM, about an hour after the earthquake, I stumbled upon a Facebook page:  I survived the 10/16/12 earthquake.  By the time I encountered it, it had over 35,000 "Likes".  That is, already in less than an hour 35,000+ had seen it on their Facebook feed or shared it with friends who had quickly learned about the earthquake and joined.  Over the course of the next 3 hours, this group swelled to nearly double in ranks (about 71,000) before I went to sleep and up over 80,000 likes before I went to bed.  So in lieu of watching the debate, I watched the numbers grow.  And as they grew, I took screenshots of the page and numbers, showing that increase.  The results can be found below in the slideshow.

But the question I want to think about is as educators, how can we harness this potential of viral explosion with informal learning.  Granted, I understand there is a certain frivolousness to what's happened.  Most likely, 99.99% of people who "liked" it will never revisit it.  But that doesn't mean we can't learn from the interaction and ask ourselves what are the takeaways from this (non)event.  A couple to consider:

  1. Fast response:  A news event occurred and someone quickly responded with a way to capture it in a way that brings attention to it (and mocks it).
  2. It grew rapidly within a specified population.  I'm not privy to the demographics of the the fan page, but I'm willing to guess the demographics were heavily skewered to these people:  People who have or are living in New England and people under 50.
  3. Absurdity + recent event + social media=Opportunity to connect (and profit).  Within 3 hours of the event, the FB page not only had 70,000+ likes, but also had quickly created an e-store with which to sell "I Survived the 10-16-2012 Earthquake" T-shirts.
  4. People got something out of liking it.  Brief though the interaction may be, there was something rewarding for people to participate in this.  There was some exchange--small or not.

If we are more socially connected with our students what opportunities lie in wait for us to re-purpose such events into opportunities for learning and meaning-making?  I don't have the answers for this one but do wonder if we are more away of the phenomenon and think or discuss it more, can we find ways of doing something with it.  I look forward to hearing your thoughts!