Thursday, August 1, 2013

Our Little Baby All Grows Up

I lived for 11 years in Music City, Nashville, Tennessee.  I found myself putting music in a bunch of holes I found in my life (after breaking up a 5 year relationship, after leaving school, etc.).  Being there, when I was, I found a number of outlets to consume local, indie music.  In the early to mid 2000s, enjoying indie music was even cool, so there was the weird thing of being part of a popular movement whose whole point was to enjoy things that were not mainstream.

I feel like this is where we are with our online community of math teachers, affectionately known as the mathtwitterblogosphere (or MTBos).  We're the rising indie band who is a couple steps away from having Sony call to offer us a contract.  It's a little bit of a scary place.

Many of the things that define this community are directly related to the smallish size and "grass-roots" popularity that we enjoy.  Will we "sell out" if our little group grows too big?

On the one hand, we want our ideas and the group itself to be open to anyone and everyone who feels moved to join.  After all, what we do is for the kids.

On the other hand, it feels like we will lose a lot of the things I love about the group if it grows too big.

I was trying to tell my wife about my confliction with my vision of the future of this group.  Sarah asked if I wanted TMC to just be a little get together of my friends.  It hurt when she said it, because it sounds bad and exclusive, but I'll admit that I selfishly kind of do want that.   I have found some people that I would consider friends for life through this community and I am continuing to find more here and there, so I guess I shouldn't be worried about that part.  Whatever happens to the community at large, I can hope that people I really want/need to interact with will still be there for/with me.

Sam posted about the close-knit community we have.  How can we maintain that while growing much larger?  Will we split into groups (#geomchat, #algchat, #statschat, Northeast, West, Central, early adopters, newcomers, etc.)?  What happens when we're bigger than physical space will allow us to get together during the summer?  Would corporate sponsors at meetings help or hurt?

I guess what I'm saying is that change is hard.


  1. Hey Dave - we didn't really get to talk at TMC, but your post resonated with me a lot. As a newcomer to the awesomesauce that is the MTBoS, I have a lot of guilt that I'm ruining it for the oldtimers and orignal creators. I loved the connections that I made at TMC this year, but was worried that I was perhaps interfering with people who were already actual friends and wanted time together. I also know that I'm already not keeping up with Twitter and wonder how things will work as more and more people find out about this community and want in. I would hate to see the type of fragmentation that you describe, but not sure if there's any way around it? Anyway, I thought you raised some good points, and I hope to see them continue being discussed.

  2. I am sad you felt guilt for being able to take part in the awesomesauce. Maybe it's going to just be how things are in these growing pains, but I didn't want there to be any third wheel feelings out there. In addition to the small size and tight-knit community, one of the things I love most about this group is their openness and desire to make everyone feel comfortable.

    In addition to the people I had already met, I got to know a few more new people this time to add to my list of people I really appreciate being around. I don't think TMC is quite at the unwieldy point yet, but it seems like it's coming. I mean, how could they resist this much fun once they know about it?!

    It's hard for all of us to find a good balance, I think. "One is silver and the other is gold," sure, but how much do I want or need of each?

  3. As a newcomer, I felt welcomed by all! I also didn't feel like I needed to be involved with everything (in part because I arrived late and with my family in tow), but I felt free to join in lots of conversations. I made a point to make lunch dates with Steph and Jessica, because I wanted to get to know them better. I didn't feel left out when TMC12 folks posed for pics, or whatever - I respect that you are good friends with longer ties. Maybe, if as you say, this grows to unwieldy, we can have reunion sessions within the conference. Class of '12 can have an evening out, etc.

    I guess my main point is that I understand the way you feel, and I encourage you to make the things that you want out of this happen, while staying open to the new things. Change is hard, but this is all good.

  4. As a late-comer to this community, I also felt a bit like an interloper at TMC13. I was worried that the people who went last year, who write blogs constantly, who develop amazing ideas, would feel like I was stepping on their turf. At no point did I feel this way. I was welcomed with open arms into discussions and groups without hesitation and it made me feel warm and fuzzy inside.

    At the planning meeting for TMC14, I was hesitant to use the word "we" when talking about the community but I found myself feeling very protective of the group in exactly the way you describe. I think you're absolutely right to ask the questions you do about it growing too big. We (you) want it to be small enough to still have the feel of a community rather than a convention while still not excluding people who want to be a part of it.

    There was talk of having Dan be a part of TMC14 and, while I think he would be an amazing asset, I worry about the groupies he would attract. People who would come to the conference just to see him, or say they saw him, rather than to be a part of the community.

    Even as I type this, I think "Who am I to even offer these opinions? Why would anyone listen to me?" I hope that I can be a part of the continued conversation and hopefully not in a way that sounds like "Now that I'm in, you can close the gates."

    Thank you for writing this article. It put voice to many of the thoughts that I've been having.