A Guilty Confession


This week I met a man I met on the internet – and to be honest, he’s not the first.

OK that’s all a bit sordid and not to say disturbing so let’s start again..

This week I had great pleasure in helping Documentally complete a challenge set by Vodaphone to travel Land’s End to John o Groats with no currency other than a few sim cards. The challenge was to see if he could barter/swop/buy food, shelter and transport to travel the longest distance across the land of the British Isles. I collected him 40 miles south of Newcastle and drove him up to Edinburgh in Scotland. Why did I do it? I suppose I could say I’m always up for a road trip – or ‘it’s nice to be nice’ but that doesn’t really cover it.

The simple bits first.

Christian is one of the good guys.

He nurtures his network and this adventure has highlighted the kindness and generosity of people across this land. A welcome change for folk like me who are frequently immersed in the misery and bullying that also permeates the online communities.I was glad to play a small part in this UK online/in person feel-good event.

We, at Northern Grid, struggle to get local and national press to attend and report upon our events and achievements. Christian published an audio blog of his conversation with me that reached out to his 17000 strong network of educationalists and media people. That’s got to be a good thing.

He plays a mean blues harmonica and I got a private performance while driving into Scotland

He’s a great photographer – though even he can’t prevent me from looking like the idiot child of Johnny Cash and Ertha Kitt

Y’see the thing is, Documentally is everything we education types bang on about all the time – all that stuff about new technologies, new thinking etc. etc. etc.

Let me explain..

A couple of years ago there was a flurry of interest in the presentation ‘Shift Happens”  – and one specific message has stuck with me.

There’s a part of the presentation that says something like ‘we need to prepare children for jobs that don’t even exist yet’. A fair point I think. Three years ago our ex student placement left us to join a company that makes mobile apps. Suffice to say up until very recently I had chuff all understanding of what that could mean and I certainly wasn’t preparing my pupils in the 90’s for such a career.

Documentally has one of those jobs that didn’t exist a decade or so ago – Infact I’m not even sure what his job is..

I have met Christian (for that is who @documentally is) in person earlier in the year. I wanted to speak with him because I’m convinced he’s got some valuable thoughts and insights on what schools should be doing and also what we, at Northern Grid, should be doing to support teachers and learners. I had also managed to persuade my colleagues that we should consider @documentally as a speaker at our conference next year – and here’s where the trouble begins.

‘Normal’ speakers are easy to describe. They work at a university, belong to a local authority, they used to be a teacher. All easy handles to help my colleagues build a picture, a frame of reference, about the person I’m describing.

The meeting where I tried to describe who and what Documentally is, was a tad .. uncertain?

Me: ‘I suggest we ask Documentally to speak at the conference’

Colleagues: blank looks

Me: ‘ He’s a bloke I follow on Twitter’

Colleagues: Ah.. Twitter (roll eyes/look bemused etc.) What does he do?

There’s the rub.

Me: ‘Well he does a lot of blogging.. er.. video blogs, lot of Audioboo, he’s got quite a good YouTube Channel.. oh and he has a website called ‘Our Man Inside

Colleagues are looking at me in that ‘I want to trust you .. but..’ kind of way  and I couldn’t bring myself to tell them he also did quite a disturbing review of Scottivest trousers which, as I remember, was largely a video of his groinal area

Me: ‘He’s really interesting, and a bit quirky. His gran has a twitter account too. So has his dog.. and his van..’

I can sense this isn’t helping and at this point I can see that even I’m not convinced by these attempts to legitimise the fella’s credentials and fit these new elements of an occupation into our conventional frame of reference re ‘proper’ jobs

Let’s look at his Twitter Bio : ‘Social technologist. storyteller. edge case. vlogger. photographer. talking. teaching. Documenting’

Hmm. Let’s try his ‘About’ page on his website. It’s a fantastic piece of writing and a great (digital) literacy activity for teachers to use with their pupils. Among other things Christian describes himself as ‘a freelance mobile media maker who also specialises in Social Media & photography.’ How many of those words would have had any meaning 15 years ago? Now think about the challenge for teachers in preparing learners for the world 15yrs in the future.

So finally I clutch at occupations we can all feel comfortable with. ‘He’s a photographer and documentary maker’

Job sorted. We all agree he could be good.


Conclusion? We talk about the need to prepare kids for jobs and technology that hasn’t been created yet, when even today we, the adults struggle to make sense of the current communication and employment opportunities. For many of us, we’re still using traditional criteria to define today’s opportunities.

A question for you. Is Documentally my friend?

During esafety sessions with young people I often encourage them to define a friend – and their answers are usually around:

Someone you can trust

Someone you like

Someone who won’t let you down


Someone you’ve met in person.

That last one is interesting isn’t it? I feel like I have friends in my social networks who I have never met in person.

I usually tell the youngsters that I’d define a friend as someone I’d lend a large sum of money – or (and this is significant) someone I’d get out of bed for at 2am to go a pick them up if they needed to be somewhere/had broken down etc.

So, I’ll ask again.. Is Documentally my friend? – That man I met on the internet.

If we’re challenging ourselves to teach kids and prepare them for jobs that don’t exist yet then I’d like to add the following to the mix..

What are we doing to prepare young people for relationships that don’t exist yet?

Telling young people not to talk to strangers on the web is no more helpful than ‘you must never go into the park’. We need to acknowledge the flaws in our own perceptions of relationships and their need to be grounded in face to face contact. We need to give them the skills to manage, nurture and enjoy these new communication opportunities, safely and, as I said to my good friend Documentally; (possibly face to face  – or online, I forget which)

Strangers are just friends we haven’t met yet.


10 Responses to A Guilty Confession

  1. Good one Simon, and a great adventure you participated in!

  2. Steve Bunce says:

    Enjoyed reading your post, Documentally always writes interesting tweets and so great you could be involved in his road trip.

  3. Dianne says:

    I enjoyed reading this post. I have some wonderful online friends that I have not yet met. Let’s not be naïve, we know that our children will make on-line friends. We need to equip them with the skills to know how to communicate and how to keep themselves safe at the same time. So many wonderful folk out there! It’s time we met more of them!

  4. mrs d says:

    I had trouble in school when saying I had found an international link through someone I know on Twitter – on lines of how do you know she is who she says she is – very hard to explain to the uninitiated!

  5. Wow, some really good food for thought. It makes me think back to my education and subsequent first steps in my career – totally design and print based when the Internet didn’t even exist. Now, my career and business IS the Internet, I envy the younger generation – just think what they will be able to achieve with the knowledge of the technology that exists today and the foresight of teaching students to look beyond what is possible right now.

    Great piece, thanks for sharing 🙂


  6. Lynda Dixon says:

    A great article, Simon. Five years ago, I would never have dreamed of arranging to meet a group of men I’d met on the internet and go out for a curry with them. But I did. And had a really enjoyable night!
    I have been telling young people for years that what they need for success is a toolkit of skills that they can use in different situations because by the time they get to working age, the jobs they will do have not been invented yet. I use my first ever mobile phone to explain the technological changes that have happened in 10 years. (It always causes guffaws of laughter!).
    These skills must go hand-in-hand with keeping safe when using new technologies, of course, understanding risk and taking responsibility for our actions.
    I never cease to be amazed at the difference social networking has made to my life and feel that many people in my personal learning network are ‘friends’.

  7. Phil McLear says:

    Great post Simon

    Made me think of those students I sent out into the big wide world for jobs in IT ‘cos they thought my job running the network was interesting. they are all over the world now doing, as you point out, jobs that 10 years ago didn’t exist. How on earth do we get the people locked inside classrooms with their doors firmly shut to realise what they need to prepare their flock for??

  8. Hi Simon,
    Great blog post! Really enjoyed it and a lot of food for thought!

  9. simfin says:

    Thanks for all the positive feedback and comments – I appreciate it

  10. alexfinvle says:

    ‘Trust’ is is not on or off, you can apply different levels of trust to different people, which is something that needs to be shared and understood by pupils. I can trust my parents to care for me, I can trust my best friend to repay the £5 I lent him, I can trust my twitter friends to read my tweets, but not care for me…

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