The Curse of the Electric Garage Door Opener

15 01 2011

I’m going to give you a name and I want you to tell me what comes to mind. Ready?

Wayne Gretzky.

You might automatically think of the number 99, the Edmonton Oiler’s Dynasty in the 80’s or his title, “the Great One”. How about the images of him hoisting the Stanley Cup or the 82 NHL records he once held. You could be thinking of the fact that he is a Canadian (from Brantford, Ontario to be specific). Perhaps your thoughts are on Walter Gretzky – his dad that he respected so much. Maybe the first thing you think of is his trademark: the flap of the back of his jersey tucked into his hockey pants. You might remember him as the coach of the Phoenix Coyotes or his involvement with Hockey Canada as a player and a GM and the Olympic Gold Medals he captured for our country. Some may envision the teams he played on (Edmonton, L.A., New York and the one that everyone forgets – St. Louis). Maybe it’s Janet – the actress he married – who is the first image that comes to your mind. Or most recently, the Olympic torch he carried at the Vancouver 2010 Opening Ceremonies.

Let me ask you another question. Ready?

What can you tell me about your neighbor three houses down?

Hmmm. That he’s got a dog that keeps you awake? That his dog leaves “lawn ornaments” on your front yard? Forget about the dog. What is your neighbor’s name? What kind of work does he do? What’s his wife’s name? What do they typically enjoy doing on a Saturday afternoon? These questions may be tougher ones to answer.

I was with a group of teachers this weekend and the subject of social networking came up. The fact that someone had just crossed the 500 plateau in “Facebook Friends”. One of us raised the point that the term “friends” is probably not the most accurate term. Maybe “connections” or “contacts”, but friends? Not likely. This individual went on to say that he gleans a lot of surface information about people in his Facebook network without actually talking to them. Ever. He also admitted that he’s only got about 20 people who he would consider to be “close friends”.

Why is that? How come we know more about people that we’ve never actually met (Gretzky) than the people in our neighborhood? If you talk to the older generation, many spent a good part of their weeks in casual conversations with their neighbors about seemingly meaningless stuff. As I thought about the way we think of our own neighbors, there has certainly been a shift in attitudes and relationships in the past few decades. What happened?

The electric garage door opener, that’s what. That’s right – the introduction of the electric garage door opener. The point being made was that we no longer need to get out of our car to lift the door up and verbally say hi to the guy in the next yard mowing his lawn or working in the flower beds. Today, many of us give a polite wave and drive right in without stopping to “check in” with the people who live on our block. I’m not sure it’s entirely intentional, but it is an accurate account of how many of us live.

I’m noticing that our communities have shifted radically. They are no longer tied to geography. With the rise of social media, we can easily have conversations with others on the other side of the globe in real time. And with the new social landscape comes a new language:  I’ve got hundreds of tweeps in my twibe that I tweet to. Just look at the red dots on the cluster map of people who have checked out this blog. It’s fascinating and incredible at the same time when you think about it.

The rise of new media has cut into the face time we have with others and it is the inter-personal relationships that end up suffering. As teachers, we must never be satisfied with simply making a connection with our students. As important as connections are, they are simply the starting point and that true, authentic relationships should be what we strive for with others. Relationships are built on trust and trust takes time. There really is no short-cut to deepening relationships with other people – especially with students.

We’ve all been given the same number of hours in our days – 24 to be exact. I think I need to carve some of that out in the coming weeks to converse with the people on my block.




One response

17 01 2011
Tweets that mention The Curse of the Electric Garage Door Opener « From God's House to the Big House & the School House --

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Chris Wejr and Brad Hagkull. Brad Hagkull said: "We must never be satisfied with simply making a connection with our students". From my new post: […]

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