Last night I called a dear friend whom I hadn’t spoken to in a while. Too long, in fact — again. You know how it goes. You think of the person(s) and say to yourself, ‘I should get in touch with him/her/them.’ And then life intrudes, and you forget about the person until the next time you remember.
Eventually, usually, we get in touch — we overcome the inertia, or something overcomes it for us. In this case, calling my friend was the first thing that came to mind when I asked myself how to pay tribute to Jay Cross.
I learned on Facebook a few days ago that he passed away, unexpectedly and far too soon, when a tribute to Jay appeared on my news feed in which a FB friend was quoted. Then more tributes started showing up in my news feed from several more of my FB colleagues.
I’ve known his work for some time, and my Seven Futures of American Education book cites his work in three instances: one related to the history of online education (p.42), one related to his work on informal learning (p.21), and a third one which relates to the value of networks and connecting, how “networks increase their value exponentially by increasing the number of interconnected nodes, and connecting networks to other networks accelerates their growth” (p.158; also see the cited source below).
I’ve tried to apply these insights in my professional work; recently, for example, I collaborated with two colleagues on writing a paper on definitions of e-learning, a term which Jay is widely credited with inventing. We presented this paper as a conversation starter at the recent OLC conference in Orlando, with the explicit aim of connecting this work with as many other people, institutions, organizations as were interested.
Many of my FB colleagues knew Jay much better than I did; they had met him in person or had worked with him directly. For me, Jay was one of those people whose work I admired from afar when I first encountered it. I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if I could actually communicate with him someday. The possibility seemed remote and slight. Then social media came along, with its capacity to connect people. Jay and I became Facebook friends, and we even interacted a couple of times, exchanging comments about his postings. Certainly modest in comparison, but enough that I feel OK about referring to him by his first name, and still in its own way a little dream come true thanks to the power of networks.
Then I made a mistake. I thought to myself, maybe I’ll get to meet Jay in person some day. That was not the mistake; the mistake was in thinking that I had plenty of time for this. I’d made this mistake before with people I’d known, and news of Jay’s death reminded me of the regret I’d felt from taking such things for granted.
Maybe I’ve finally realized that making that mistake once is once too often. So last night I called my dear friend whom I hadn’t spoken to in a while. We’re making arrangements to get together for dinner, to catch up with her and her husband, to make sure the connection stays strong. We laughed about how the two of us, for some reason, still prefer the phone to communicate with each other, even though it seems quaint — and perhaps an unnecessary barrier. Next time, we’ll use email, and we won’t wait so damn long. And I’ll contact the next person with whom I need to keep in touch.