The Conference

A few days ago, I walked into a bookstore looking for a magazine, or some kind of book that I could take with me on a plane trip to a conference. I was geared toward finding a magazine about current events, something non-technology, a bit of a change of pace.

The targeted marketing table for some kind of theme that I don’t remember caught my eye, and I picked up the essay collection from the This I Believe series from NPR. I thumbed through a few, liked what I read, like how the 3 pages each fit into my short attention span. And I put the book down, I wasn’t really planning on buying a book — my shelves and nightstand are already littered with too many half-read tomes that probably won’t ever get read.

But then I flipped through again, and read Jason Sheehan’s essay about barebecue, and I knew I had to have it, I don’t think that I could have the temerity to leave behind a book that talks about both belief and barbecue.

I’ve half-read this one too, but that’s only because I was limited to reading it on a 2-hour plane trip — half the time with mind wandering to my own set of “this I believes”. My thoughts at first led to if I were to write my own, that I’m sure it would have been about asking questions.

When I landed, I did something I never do at conferences, I walked into the hotel, saw a colleague from Iowa State. Actually, scratch that. I ran into my friend, Brian Webster, who was meeting a crowd for dinner, and I asked him if he could wait 5 minutes, long enough to drop my things off in the room, and join the crowd too. Two doors down from my room, my friend Greg Parmer is coming out of his room to head down to join Brian, MyFriendFloyd, MyFriendJohn, and many other MyFriend[Name]s.

There’s a kind of a funny story about when I first starting using twitter. It was sometime Kevin Gamble remarked at ACE/NETC in 2008 that Anne Adrian had said something to the effect that “man, that Jason fellow was pretty quiet, we weren’t sure he ever said much at all, but now on twitter, you can’t get him to shut up”.

I think that there’s a bit of Kevin-for-Jason translation on Anne’s quote. But Anne did have all her twitter updates sending her SMS messages, I quite imagine I had a few days there filling up a few SMS inboxes.

I guess to bring these disparate threads together, my loquaciousness, and 17 years of working confidence in my ability to do what I do belie a introversion that runs deep in me. I have no problems standing in front of a room of dozens or even hundreds of people that I have never met, and giving an introduction, or saying a few words about something I know a little something about, or speaking up in a panel conversation on a subject I know. But I’ll be quieter than a church mouse in a social forum around people I don’t know.

It takes a long time for me to warm up. But this is the fourth NETC conference for me. And with the three prior, I’ve said my public words, but kept the social conversation mainly to myself or to those I knew in my own organization.

But this time is different. Sure there’s been three prior NETC conferences that I’ve gotten brief chances to meet and speak with folks, but more importantly, what is now almost 2 years of twitter, facebook, tumblr, friendfeed and more have given me glimpses into the lives of people that my introversion would have never given me the chance to know.

I’m not big on company travel, I miss my wife, and walking my dogs, and the comforts of my home. But there’s some excitement coming to this conference and seeing each of them again. It’s like seeing old friends that you haven’t seen in quite some time, but have kept up with as time as gone by. I find myself even missing seeing people I’ve never actually met, but have had the honor and fortune of getting to know them in those other ways.

And maybe that is really where this comes together. The true power in social networks isn’t marketing, or follower count, or reach, or impact. It’s about turning colleagues into friends, and introversion into excitement.

This I believe.