Virginia Tech Tragedy: Web 2.0 to the Rescue!

GO HOKIES! I am a proud graduate of Virginia Tech. The education I recieved there prepared me for a wonderfully exciting career at the nexus of technology and business. The friends I met there are the ones that I have held closest to my heart over the last 20 years. In fact, my roomates from sophmore year and I had already planned to meet up in Blacksburg this year for the Miami game. That encounter will no doubt take on quite a different tone given the recent news.

Most importanly, the friend I hold closest to my heart, my wife, is a fellow Hokie. We met during her sophmore year. For me, it was without-doubt a case of love at first sight. Seven years later (it took me a while to convince her about the love-at-first sight thing ; ), Theresa and I were married at the Virginia Tech chapel. The date was April 15, 1995.

Yes, in case you are wondering, this is the same chapel where you most likely saw bodies being laid out on TV the other night. In fact, my uncle called me from England because he did not put two and two together until he saw the news footage of the Chapel and called to make sure that all was well with us. He had attended our wedding 12 years ago and the light went off in his mind when he saw the images on TV.

To Theresa and I, Virginia Tech is more than simply a place on some map. It is a huge part of who we are as people. When Virginia Tech takes a hit so do we. Theresa was lucky enough to have Nikki Giovanni for English her Freshman year in college. Dr. Giovanni’s address to the Hokie faithful is nothing short of astounding. The response to her address is simply 100% Hokie Nation. Those of us from Tech will take much solace in this video.

When I first watched this short address I found myself simultaneously steeped in the emotions of deep sorrow and incredible pride. A truly eerie feeling. I was tearful because that part of me that is Virginia Tech is battered, bruised and still laying on the ground not quite sure if it wants to get up. At the same time, I am proud that there are role models like Dr. Giovanni, a passionate and powerful scholar with a gift for words. Her passion and talent as a professor makes me want to become a better guide to all the kids I have the honor teaching at NCSU. I was most proud though, to feel kinship with my fellow Hokies who responded to Dr. Giovanni’s incredible address in typical fashion…With a “Lets go Hokies” chant!

I remain saddened to know that my alma matter will always be remembered for something that could have happened anywhere, anytime, anyplace. It just happened to be Blacksburg, on the 16th of April (one day after our 12th wedding anniversay) in Norris Hall and West AJ.

Virginia Tech is so much more to so many of us than what happened there at a particular time-stamp in the relentless unfolding of time. But unfortunately, since the invention of the printing press, and the recording of opinion guised as fact, and the search of the sound byte rather than the desire to share compassion, April 16th is the one day that will continue define our incredible alma matter many years to come.

Those of us who opt to live in the land of the soundbite errantly assume that we can Grok everything from the news. Well today is a new day. The big news today is that the students up at Tech are no longer talking to reporters. Instead, they are keeping their mouths shut and handing out flyers politely asking them to go home. GO HOKIES!

In typical Hokie fashion, these wonderful, creative, resilient kids are leveraging technology like never before. They are setting up Facebook vigils. What is that you ask? Well these kids are Digital Natives. Most of the victims had a Facebook or Myspace account.

For those of you who are Digital Immigrants who dont have teenagers, this means that there is a digial place in cyberspace that these students created as the silicon-based equivalent of their carbon-based self. It is a place that the typical user goes to at least 30 times a day. It is a place where owners work to continue to personalize and hone the place to be in tune with who they really are (and sometimes who they aspire to be). In short it is their digital persona.

So, now that physical peson is gone, those who knew the victims and were connected to them via digital friend profiles are using the power of social networking to invite others to the victim’s page to hold vigil. Hundreds of thousands of students from around the world are gathering around the victim’s pages to grieve, yell, question, talk, listen, and support their fellow students. Web 2.0 has become a coping mechanism for the ills of the world. Everyone particpates, no-one delegates and it makes us feel better.

In a Web 2.0 world like this who needs journalists who just want to reduce the enormity of what happened to a shocking soundbite by using the word “Massacre” everywhere you turn?

Where is the compassion in the reporting? Why are we moving beyond being here now with these wonderful Hokies whose lives have been ripped apart, whose souls have been bared to the darkest side of humanity and whose cognitions are reeling like reeds in a hurricane of inquiry to talk about who is to blame or gun control, but never to listen, support and share in grief. Seems like Journalists need to get back to basics. Kubler-Ross anyone?

Instead the question coming from all sides is Who is to blame? My response to that is… Who the hell cares? Does finding someone to blame make this tragedy (note that I did not use the word Massacre) go away? Of course not. So, I’ll say it again. Who the hell cares where blame lies? The truth is that the past is past and gone forever. The future is uncertain and can’t be known. The present is called the present because it IS a PRESENT. A gift where humainty can dwell in synchrony to make things better for themselves and for each other. Thankfully, today’s generation seems to be more aware of this than my own and they are leveraging Web 2.0 technologies to facilitate that collaborative healing process.

So, for all of our sakes, lets all just be there now (except the journalists that is) and lets be whatever it is the Hokie Nation needs us to be to allow them to begin that increasingly important human ability to forgive and foget.

I have steered clear of mainstream media throughout the past week. If you want to experience the truth about what happened in Blacksburg the other day go to where the people who are self organizing via the use of Web 2.0 tools. There you get the raw but honest sense of what these folks are going thorugh. You also start to see just how important and neccessary Social Networking is becoming in a world that is fueled by the relentless and accelerating flow of information/media from every angle.

Thank the universe for Web 2.0. I can YouTube Dr. Giovanni and replay her address over and over again. I can experience what it felt to be there chanting “Lets Go Hokies” out loud with my wife while we are here in bed in Raleigh NC. As a digital immigrant trying desperately hard to swim up the Web 2.0 stream, I can also share in paying homage and respect to the digital personas of the wonderful students whose lives were so horribly interrupted before coming to full bloom. In doing so, Web 2.0 helps to shrink my world and makes it really personal. Long live Web 2.0.

One final note. Social networking works in the carbon-based world too. Last night we went to a Flaming Lips show with some friends. We were not in the mood but forced ourselves to go. Thank God we did. The show itself was amazing and provided a neccessary respite from the back room boys in my brain processing all this stuff. Even more amazing though, was the amount of maroon and orange at the show. I also noticed that the confetti used throughout the show was burnt orange. Coincidence perhaps…methinks not.

BTW tomorrow (Friday, April 20) is Maroon and Orange day. So, please dig into your closet and join the Hokie Nation in showing your support for the people in Blacksburg and their extended families that reach around the globe many times over.

Anyway, I ran into a guy at the bar who had a Hokie hat on. I asked him if he was a Hokie. He said no but that his wife was. He said she was too upset to attend the show, but he thought it would be a good thing to wear the hat to show his support.

It was a good thing he wore his hat. We should all wear our hats. We should all go to Facebook. We should all wear Maroon and Orange tomorrow. And finally, we should all start to leverage 2.0 techology to do what it does best: Facilitate human interaction on a scale that was previously unimaginable. If we did there may be less of the kind of crap we tend to be seing on the news every night and more of the kind of humanity and humilty we are capable of would come shining through.

Long live Web 2.0 and Long Live the HOKIES. Become part of the solution. Web 2.0 is READ-WRITE web. Focus on the latter (that means WRITE!). Get a blog, get into the conversation. There are no excuses. If an old fart like me can do it, believe me anyone can!

Plus, it makes you FEEL a whole lot better.