WWTT?

WWTT?What Would Thoreau Tweet?I’m hardly the first person working at the intersection of the environmental movement and digital culture to ask that potentially irreverent, definitely anachronistic question. (See the postscript for  links.) But it’s been on my mind these past few weeks, for a few reasons.Along with colleagues at Earthwatch, I’ve been thinking about various citizen science apps and other mobile technology science projects, and getting (vicariously) inspired by conferences like the recent London Citizen Cyberscience Summit. (Though I confess I thought the geeks who rule us all had outlawed the use of  ”cyber” as a prefix sometime around 1997; do we have Russell T. Davies to thank for its return?)At the same time, Earthwatch has been slowly and steadily expanding—unlocking?—its social media presence via platforms like Pinterest, Google , Mightybell, and this new blog.I’ve felt our digital identity—which used to exist exclusively on our website, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter—undergoing some changes. I’m not sure if it’s expansion and diversification (on the good days), or fracturing (on the bad ones)—but it’s…something.Something fundamental about the way we connect with the worldwide Earthwatch community  is evolving, and a bit more rapidly than I think we yet understand.What’s the Problem? Don’t You Want More People Following You?You may be wondering why a social media manager finds anything in this to give him pause and prompt thoughts of Thoreau and Walden Pond. (Other than the fact that it’s a wonderful place to go “off the grid” on days when I can’t  tolerate another Tweet or Like another link…)Simply put, our digital communications evolution is happening in the context of  Earthwatch’s decidedly non-digital reality: we put people  in the field to help scientists and experience science first-hand.The Earthwatch experience, as traditionally delivered, sits slightly to the side of what many now understand to be “citizen science,” which stretches from its origins in the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Counts to recent examples of computer crowd sourcing helping biologists unlock a protein’s structure and assisting astronomers mapping the galaxies. Earthwatch expeditions have always been more tactile and less de-centered than these and many other citizen science examples.Nevertheless, with digital media valued by most (including this writer) precisely because they partially remove those pesky little things called “time and space” as barriers, the urge to think of the Earthwatch experience as something that can be delivered digitally is tempting.But as someone who lost 7 lbs in ten days on his last Earthwatch expedition, despite eating like the teenagers I helped shepherd up and down southern California’s mountains, I’m all too aware of the non-digital reality of Earthwatch Sweat ™.Some days, then, I wonder at the potential disconnect between our media and our mission as citizen science and digital culture converge.(Often, all over my desk.)Did You Really Just Try to Trademark “Earthwatch Sweat”?Nearly every day of the year, dedicated Earthwatch scientists and volunteers wake up early, ready their  gear, get into the field, and very often get Earthwatch Sweaty. They also get muddy, cold, wet, tired, or all of the above—in very non-digital ways.(As well as educated, amazed, inspired, and empowered, of course.)If you’ll pardon my adapting the argument Thoreau used to explain his Walden experiment, Eathwatchers go to Puerto Rico’s rain forest, or the Mongolian steppe, or mountainous panda reserves in China, or a fossil site in Texas ”to live deliberately, to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.”(Though our expedition food is usually better than that….)We often get fantastic content (an obnoxious marketing term, I admit)  from Earthwatchers  about their experiences,  and share them with you more quickly than ever thanks to social media.Yet I’m painfully, personally aware of what doesn’t come through—what can’t come through—in these nearly instant dispatches.Ease of transmission about the experience via Tweets or Pins or Likes or Plus Ones doesn’t equal ease of actual communication about the experience.[We Interrupt This Navel Gazing to Use This Blog to Plug the Things Causing Us to Navel Gaze. Ooh, How Meta.Allow me to pause here for some self-aware irony: I do hope you\’re sharing your photos of your Earthwatch experiences to our Facebook page, especially those team photos we\’re gathering in our Expedition Yearbooks; and we urge those of you who use Twitter to include the

via WWTT?.

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About Sarah Rows Solo

British YouTuber and Founder of Environmental and STEM education charity Oceans Project, preparing for a solo row around the coast of Great Britain.
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