The first time my son got into the pool this summer, he was completely terrified. The water was cold. The pool seemed bigger than he remembered. The painted black lane marker on the pool floor looked like a whale. He clung to me, pleading that I not let go and each time we got wet he began to scream “I’M DROWNING”, alerting the lifeguards and generating some nasty looks from neighboring parents. We went to the pool three times each week for several weeks. I didn’t push him past his comfort zone, but each time we went, he became more comfortable. He realized he could touch the bottom of the pool (only 3 feet deep) and walk around on tiptoes. He learned to float with a belly board. He started putting his face in the water and blowing bubbles.
I felt the same terror when I began this semester, my first in grad school, my first schooling of any kind in over a decade. And, of my first courses, one was in social media. I’ve described my unfamiliarity with social media, and technology, in this blog before. But, when I saw my son floating in the pool for the first time on his own with a smile on his face, I started thinking about fear – how limiting it is, how we can get so caught up in anticipatory anxiety of an event that we eventually forget what or why we were afraid at the beginning. Fear can be overwhelming. Like learning a new language or jumping in the pool for the first time (or falling in love), the only way to really understand social media (its applications, its power, its limitations) is to immerse yourself in it. At some point – and you probably won’t notice it at the moment – you’ll realize you aren’t drowning and stop struggling. You’ll learn to trust the system (or the water) to hold you up. You might even have some fun with it!