November 15, 2020
By Kevin Morooney
VP for Trust and Identity and NET+, Internet2
In getting ready for CAMP and ACAMP, I got to thinking about how important this week is and what I can do to make the most of it.
Has this ever happened to you? ‘Cuz it’s happened to me.
I had a crew, a squad, a clique, a band, a tribe – that I ran with in high school. We were inseparable. We wore the same kinds of clothes, liked the same music, believed in the same causes, liked the same books, hated the same books, loathed the life our parents were living, rooted for the same sports teams, reviled the same sports teams. We ate lunch together every day to rail against the world, laugh with the world. Some of my favorite times as a teenager were spent with these friends. We did some things together but mostly we hung out. The connections among us were rich, nuanced, life affirming. They were a gigantic piece of my identity.
We all graduated from high school and went separate ways off to college, all up and down the east coast of the U.S.. This phenomena was, of course, all unfolding in the absence of cell phones, email and the like. The only way we could stay in touch was by (a rare) letter via the postal service or using the shared phone at the end of hallways of the residence halls we now called home.
Thanksgiving break that first year, coming back home for the first time, was a rush of reconnecting with each other – learning from each other how our new environments were testing our tried and true (and naive) take on our new worlds. Three months apart seemed to only further solidify the bonds we had created the many years prior. We returned from our college campuses to our old hang outs – our confusing and expanding worlds made sense once again. We were home, with friends, people who knew us, people who understood us. And then we all shuffled back off to college.
Then came Christmas break. Spring break. Summer break.
With each passing break that first year, we would come back together and lean on our old friendships – a comfortable home base from which to recalibrate, recenter our rapidly changing senses of self. Ever so slightly, the bonds between us started to thin. We were leveraging the bonds that had been created but we didn’t have the time together to help us sustain much less build upon that which we had established years before.
In our sophomore years of college, we repeated the cycle of going to college, coming back home and reconnecting. In that second year, the deterioration of the bonds accelerated greatly. By spring of that second year, some in my high school tribe were making plans to spend time with new friends, new tribes – friends and tribes that had been discovered at our respective campuses and new communities – instead of coming home and reconnecting with one another.
By the end of four years, our high school tribe had been replaced in our hearts – with new friends, new experiences, new affinities. We liked different music, different sports and sports teams, had enjoyed different movies, studied different subjects. We had a very fond and strong collection of memories with and feelings for one another. However, what connected us had become frozen in a past. Memorialized, respected, celebrated – but also quite dead.
For many of us in the U.S., this is a familiar tale that many if not most of us go through if we were fortunate enough to be able to go to college. I believe that most of us would say these phenomena are a necessary part of a journey of growth, change. I’d agree.
As we close in on CAMP/ACAMP, I’ve been thinking about my high school friends and how I lost them to change. I’ve accepted those losses and changes as a typical (if not necessary) part of a complex passage to be navigated, as I grew up from the remaining vestiges of childhood to starter-kit adulthood.
There are changes happening to me professionally right now, changes that I want to resist. Changes that I want others to join me in fighting against. While change itself is inevitable, how we respond to change is a big contributor to our future together.
There were seven people in my high school tribe. We gathered before school for about an hour and hung out at lunch together for another hour – just about everyday day. Various combinations of us had classes together, homework and projects to tackle, events to attend, pizza to be eaten. When considering all of these opportunities – for seven people – we probably spent, on average, a dozen hours a week with one another. That’s 84 contact hours a week. For about 30 weeks – let’s call it a clean 2,500 contact hours every school year. Over four years, that’s 10,000 contact hours. After 4 years of accumulating 10K contact hours we immediately dropped down to about 100 contact hours a year. That 100x drop off, over just less than two years – fatally wounded the long forged friendships.
Over the last about 15 years, the global (what we now call) Trust and Identity communities have accomplished much. The impact and the relevance of what you’ve accomplished, while impossible to explain to my family and friends, is indisputably profound.
In a typical month – and in “just” a Trust and Identity context (I’m not including NET+ meetings) – I attend about a dozen meetings with T&I community peeps. Assuming each meeting has 10 attendees (this is a conservative estimate), that’s 120 contact hours. Over the course of a year, throwing in some spurious meetings that fall outside of standing meetings, there’s about 1,500 digital contact hours a year.
The Internet2 Technology Exchange – for T&I folks this by and large means CAMP & ACAMP – takes place over about four days. There’s about 150 of us who identify as T&I and attend TechEx. There’s about 6 hours of programming a day. There are meetings, discussions, and connecting taking place at meals, walks, pub crawls, hallways. Let’s assume that we all get about 8 hours a day of contact time at a typical TechEx. 4 days * 8 hours/day * 150 people is – let’s call it 4,500 contact hours of physical contact hours.
The ratio of physical contact hours to digital contact hours is (very) roughly 3:1 in a year that isn’t 2020. Add in TNC and Global Summit – and that ratio increases.
You’ve accomplished a lot these 15 years. Whether we acknowledge it or not, an ingredient in getting stuff done is coming together in these ways for many years. For 15 years, something like this 3:1 ratio has been present. In 2020, that ratio will be 0:1. I suspect that the ratio in 2021 will also be 0:1, or something very close to it. It only took two years for my high school relationships to evaporate, when the ratios of being physically present with one another changed radically in a short period of time.
The changes I experienced as a teenager were as painful as they were necessary. The changes I’m experiencing right now, as we all manage life during a pandemic, can also be painful. I accept the change I have to make but I don’t accept an outcome that is anything like what I experienced with my high school friends.
We have more work to do. Scholars, their discoveries – are depending upon us. Standing up for privacy, security, integrity is needed now more than ever. We’re in the middle (?) of a moment that threatens an important ingredient for our collective success. We’re not done working together, collaborating, building, debating – yet the circumstances in which we find ourselves are a threat to our abilities to accomplish together.
What can we do about it?
One thing we can do is to get better at being present, when we are digitally connected. I’ll be at CAMP and ACAMP this week. My colleagues will see me as connected, know that I’m not at a meeting and have expectations that I’ll get to their slack message, read their emails and docs. I’ll be staring at Zoom, on my laptop – and slack, email, skype, Confluence are only a key sequence away. I’m tempted to multi-task – I’m encouraged and in fact expected to multi-task this week. But I’m not going to take the bait.
I can’t make the 0:1 ratio a 3:1 ratio next week – alone. Together, we can make a dent in it, maybe even make good on it.
I wish I could get some hugs, shake a hand, laugh at a joke, slap a back, punch a shoulder next week – but I can’t. What I can do is be as present as I am able to be and ask others to do the same. I’m looking forward to spending time with you all this week and continuing our important work together.