Letters from Summer Camp

Here’s a link to my recent blog article on the New York Times‘ “Motherlode” parenting blog:  “Letters From Sleep-Away Camp”

Yesterday, my 16-year-old son departed, by bus, for four weeks at a camp in northern Minnesota.  I’ve already checked the camp’s website for photos, and I found one photo of him from the Opening Day.  I’m pleased to see that he arrived safe and sound.

As he posed for this photo, I think he chose body language that would convey as little emotion and information as possible.  Because he had read my blog article about letters from summer camp, he knew that I’d be studying the photo carefully.  Over the next four weeks, we will be engaged in a battle of wits as he tries to confuse me from afar with his micro-expressions.

Published in: on July 28, 2009 at 8:33 pm  Comments (2)  
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Bonding in the Blogosphere

As I’ve watched my teenage and young-adult children the past few years, I’ve become painfully aware that they live in a different communication environment than I do. We all have access to the same tools—e-mail, voice mail, cell phone (both talking and texting), list serves, and social networking sites (LiveJournal, LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace).  But we use these tools in fundamentally different ways.  My kids use Web 2.0, and I’m still getting used to Web 1.0.

Nevertheless, I’m trying to understand (and emulate) their style of communication, because it’s the Future.

So over the past few months, I’ve listened to dozens of podcasts, exchanged frequent text messages with my sons, joined LinkedIn, and started using RSS feeds to follow others’ blogs. I’m now getting all my news online, and I’ve canceled my print newspaper subscription (sorry, Star Tribune employees). I even signed up for Twitter.

But I don’t think I really “got it.” I didn’t really understand how and why these forms of communications were fundamentally different. Until February 5.  Now, I get it.

What happened last week that changed my experience of communicating?

To put it simply, I took my first real step into the world known as the Blogosphere. As part of my strategy to join the 21st century, I had recently started a blog, “The Alchemist in the Minivan.” But I hadn’t yet made any attempt to generate traffic to my site.

However, that changed on February 5, when a blog entry I submitted as a “guest blogger” was published by the New York Times on its “Motherlode” Parenting Blog. (See “Just Chill, Dad.”)

Suddenly, I felt exposed to the entire world.  After all, the New York Times website receives millions of visitors each month, from all over the world.   And some of those people might actually read my article!  As a writer, I was excited and proud.

But as a shy chemist and unassuming father living in Minnesota, where we value reticence and modesty, I was uncomfortable.  That feeling didn’t last long, however, because the Blogosphere took over.

I started seeing “comments” added to my NYT story—“comments” from parents around the country sharing their own experiences, humor, and wisdom. Fifty comments flooded in over the first two hours.

Their comments were warm, articulate, and insightful.  Some of these people followed the link to my blog site.  The number of daily hits on my website went up by a factor of 30–at least for that one day.    I was communicating and interacting, in a new way, with all these people.

And I enjoyed it! It wasn’t like talking to them face-to-face, by phone, by e-mail, or by teleconference. It was a qualitatively different type of bond—not particularly strong on an individual basis but powerful on a wide basis.

When faced with new situations, groping for a way to understand something, I often reach for a chemical metaphor. So I accessed the chemistry memory bank in my brain, searching for a chemical metaphor for this new type of bonding.

The first metaphor I visualized involved the delocalized electrons in aromatic rings, such as the electrons in a molecule of caffeine. I’ve written about that metaphor in an earlier published essay, “Coffee Chemistry,” so I kept searching for a new metaphor.

The second metaphor that came to mind involves the type of bonding that occurs in a metal. I’ll write more about this metallic bonding metaphor soon, but I first need to brush up and update my understanding (it’s been about 30 years since my college courses in inorganic chemistry ).

Where will I go to start my research?  I’ll use several of those new forms of knowledge and knowledge-sharing that have emerged in the 21st century. I’ll google “metallic bonding” and read the Wikipedia article.

Published in: on February 10, 2009 at 7:47 am  Comments (1)  
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