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I'm an assistant professor at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, where I teach and research how news sites can better reach their audiences. I received my Ph.D. from the Missouri School of Journalism at the University of Missouri where I was one of the founding editors of MyMissourian.com, a citizen journalism site for Columbia, Mo. Before graduate school, I worked as a community newspaper editor in Southern Utah and Southern California.

Facebook bridges gap until you can bring Hatch Family Chocolates home

I chose to get bumped from my flight for a $400 credit, so I’m stuck in a hotel in Memphis tonight, but it’s kind of good because it lets me catch up on a busy week. I’ve got posts coming about how the iPad worked as a cell phone, what I thought about this year’s AEJMC conference, Patch – a new citizen journalism site run by AOL that I learned about this week, and the coolest (and maybe newsiest) iPad app yet – Flipboard.

I need to devote this first post to my lovely wife Merilee because she has to put up with a lot from me. The reason I’m especially thinking about her is I wasn’t home for her birthday yet again. In fact, I’ll probably never be home for her birthday as long as I’m a journalism educator / researcher because AEJMC always falls on her special day.

This year she turned 30, and I really wanted to do something special, even though I knew I couldn’t be there. Logically, I turned to technology when I just couldn’t find the the time to put some of my lower tech plans (Minute to Win It party!) in motion. I created a group on Facebook inviting her friends to submit stories and photos of her and with her a happy milestone. I didn’t invite my wife to join until her birthday when already at least a dozen friends had written comments.

It didn’t quite make the same impact as an in-person party with all of her friends, but she was gratified by the comments. I want to say publicly I’m grateful to all of those who participated, particularly her sister Emily, for entertaining my crazy idea and hopefully making Merilee’s birthday just a bit better.

The experience taught me that social media can work as a substitute to face-to-face contact. Setting up the group was simple, and inviting friends as even easier. It also seemed fairly painless to write a comment and even keep it private from my wife until the big day.

However, it will never replace being there. I always suspected that, and I think other researchers do to. Then why do we wring out hands about people so connected online that they forego actually meeting people? This all made me think of a piece by Andrew Koch in the Journal of Mass Media Ethics where he channelled Jean Baudrillard to explain the Internet cannot provide a substitute for the real interactions necessary for politics. It’s great for information sharing, but …

“Democratic politics must have as its premises real bodies, confronting real problems, in real space.”

Birthdays are like democracy, I guess. They need to happen in real time, in real space, and with real bodies. Even though I relied on technology in this instance, I’m bringing home a little something personal that I think will make it all better. Yes, that’s me in the photo above with Stephen Hatch, owner of Hatch Family Chocolates in Salt Lake City, Utah. I had to swing by because my wife is a big fan of the TLC show about the business and a budding chocolatier herself.

I have to say I’m a fan too. Mr. Hatch couldn’t have been nicer, especially when it seemed my broken camera wasn’t working. It just goes to show you that you can’t get to know someone from TV, and you can’t celebrate a birthday with virtual chocolates. I can’t wait until I get home tomorrow so we can eat the 12-pack I bought.

PhotoCredit: The above photo is mine, but I just had to add a note about the man in the upper left corner. That’s my brother Scott. He thought I was nuts, but as he always is in life, he was good natured about it and found a way to laugh. Thanks for humoring me big brother! I’ve also posted the image on my Flickr account if it gets cut off here.

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2 Responses to “Facebook bridges gap until you can bring Hatch Family Chocolates home”

  1. Mal #

    The only thing is some Facebook users aren’t really into the whole group thing! I’m bummed I missed the group page for Mer’s birthday. Ah well, I’ll be there soon enough and the face-to-face contact will make up for it! 😉

    August 11, 2010 at 10:54 pm
  2. Merilee #

    Cool post Hans. I’m so excited that you went and bought chocolates. And although at the end of the day it was sad that you were there, the special things you did for me, helped me know that you cared, and will hold me over until you get home. I think social media can work as a sustitute to face to face contact… but sometimes, you don’t just want to see a picture chocolates, you want to eat them!

    August 12, 2010 at 7:01 pm

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