I’ve been thinking about neighborhoods and neighbors lately. One of the things I love about Pittsburgh is its neighborliness. From what I’ve seen Pittsburgh has some of the friendliest people in the world. They make good neighbors, and Fred Rogers was the exemplar par excellence.
It’s sort of a city with a small town feel, or maybe it’s a small town with the amenities of a city. However it’s described, Pittsburgh’s the kind of place where you’re always bumping into people who know you – and possibly multiple generations of your family – personally. People around here care enough to be nebby. “How are you?” might actually get a real answer in this city.
Even social media in Pittsburgh is neighborly. The internet gets a bad rap for creating superficial relationships with the illusion of closeness, shortening attention spans with rapid-fire delivery of news and other data, killing politeness and diplomacy, and fostering unchecked egoism. I don’t deny that that happens. However, I believe at least some of the social media interactions between current and former residents of the city of Pittsburgh break out of those ruts.
Take Twitter for example. It’s often a chaotic medium, with status updates, links, photos, and hash tags scrolling by at dizzying rates. It suffers from every one of the above problems and then some. In the midst of all that noise, however is a little bit of a signal. Every day, at all hours, there are Pittsburghers carrying an old tradition into the 21st century. For as long as there have been fences separating yards, there have been neighbors conversing over those fences. The fences these days are electronic, but people are still talking over them.
Fence conversations might be about sports, recipes, politics (local or national), parenthood, work, TV, or any of a countless array of topics. Folks might need to vent after a bad day work – or even vent from work. They could be bellyaching about the cursed Pirates, biting their nails awaiting news about an injured Penguin, or celebrating yet another Steelers win. They might be arguing over who should have been sent home from some reality show. Maybe they’re sharing relationship advice, or passing on a family recipe. Whatever they’re talking about over their digital fences, they’re being neighborly. It’s a small world in which everyone can play “Six Degrees of PittGirl”, and you never know when you’ll bump into an internet pal in the Big Blue Room. They’re showing each other that they care enough to be nebby as they ask follow-up questions about your earlier status updates or provide a shoulder to cry on after a bad breakup. “How are you?” is answered substantively by several people, several times a day.
For the past six years, folks have held an event annually to celebrate that sense of community and help it grow. That event is called Podcamp Pittsburgh. It’s an annual gathering of bloggers, tweeters, tumblrs, flickrs, facebookers, and hoards of other Pittsburgh social media gadflies and ne’er-do-wells to teach, learn, and network. It’s an “unconference” where you can learn about anything from introductory blogging to advanced marketing techniques, and just about everything in between.
It’s also a sort of family reunion or neighborhood block party. It’s a great place to meet and get to know people. It’s where we learn who’s behind our favorite handles and meet new people we’ll follow electronically later. Simply put, it’s a chance for digital neighbors to bring their metaphorical fences to a single meeting place, where we can be neighborly face-to-face.
Whether you’re a Pittsburgher who’s tentative about joining social media, already on social media but unaware the sense of local community there, a social media junkie looking for a way to turn the social media dial up to 11, or looking for a way to make money on the internet, you should join us September 17 and 18 at Point Park University.
It’s a beautiful day in the Pittsburgh social media neighborhood. Won’t you be our neighbor?
Eric “Funky Dung” Williams