A letter to Paul Reynolds

paul reynolds 09

paul reynolds 09

I wrote this letter to Paul, following the Ed Talks Symposium in Wellington in March. I share it here as a testament to the way he made me think. It was the first time I had ever felt compelled to respond to a keynote speaker. He caught my imagination.

Dear Paul

I wanted to respond to your challenge re. “Where are the online thinking spaces?”

My first thought is “Where are the “Offline thinkers?””

I begin there because it is a personal reflection on my current state of being. At the beginning of this most unusual year, a fellowship year, a small group of us were sent forth into the midst of 12 months research with the words and affirmation “Thinking is work” ringing in our ears. To be honest, I think I possibly glowed at the prospect, but since then I have often returned to those words and held tightly to them when deciding to devote my attention wholly to one train of thought, idea or dilemma.

And it is not the case that I have refrained from allowing myself to think prior to this “thinking year” but I find it interesting that in this information age in which find ourselves, we should need a prompt to validate it.

And maybe that is part of the story behind the lack of thinking or reflective spaces online: Who is asking for them? Who wants more than a quick exchange of ideas or tasks or contact details? Who is quite happy with the deli experience of online, a wee taste here and there of something that looks appetising or unusual or possibly forbidden, but has no expectation of the possibility of sitting down to a meal.

The web continues to grow in mostly blink-sized increments designed to hold the attention of the passer-by for little more than a passing left click.  In school many students’ experience of the web will be a swift recky of sites to dump into a bibliography or the uploading of photos/videos to the class blog or a directive to play an interactive maths game. Even in the GLAMS sector, who have the coolest set of digi objects, the depth of the discourse we see online is usually confined to “Great exhibition” or “My grandma has one of those.” And that’s not to belittle those exchanges, as they in themselves are possibly a first step towards finding the confidence to post reflections that resonate deeply with both writer and audience.

And that possibly is another part of the puzzle: Who has the confidence to share their thinking rather than their set of gleaned links online? There is a huge difference between tweeting a link to blogging a reflective post let alone committing to an ongoing considered dialogue.

On a personal note, it has taken time and luck to find people with whom I can share the incongruities of my thinking in the non-virtual world. It has also taken a combination of long walks, or bottles of wine or open fires, or live performance or fabulous books shared in the company of those same people or pondered alone to shape and hone first thoughts beyond rough stones. In a virtual space my inclination is to want to find and build environments of comparative beauty and over time find people who would dare to discourse beyond the happy exchange of Facebook.

So thank you for throwing your latest album into that strange void known as a conference. I appreciated your thinking, even when squeezed by the clock.

I promise that next time I find myself in the audience (the same happened at NDF), I will dutifully queue to say in person, “Thank you.”


And now I have missed my chance, it is a salutary reminder to be generous in the moment.

But I am grateful that I got to hear Paul speak first hand, watch him work the room with his wit and wisdom and my heart felt thoughts are with his family and those close.

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