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Head of School Blog: On Connecting IRL

The following remarks by Matt Green were made to students and faculty at the opening All-School Meeting on September 6, 2022
 
Though they do make me feel old, text message abbreviations also fascinate me.  Of course, we are all familiar with old favorites like BTW, LOL, or BFF.  And perhaps you’ve had cause to write 2G2BT (too good to be true,) AMIIC (ask me if I care), or BYTM (better you than me). There may even be some among you who have written, especially in response to one of my messages, TL;DR (too long; didn’t read), or a favorite of mine, ROFLCOPTER (rolling on the floor laughing and spinning around.)  

But there is one example of textspeak that is at the center of these remarks because it concerns a question that has been on my mind this summer: “What does it mean to be connected?”  And by being connected, I mean connecting IRL.  In….Real….Life.

Do you know that over 1.21 billion of us have Instagram accounts, where we collectively spend over 34 trillion minutes per day? There are a billion TikTok users and, even though everyone says no one uses Facebook anymore, an astonishing 2.9 billion of us have active accounts.  Indeed the average person spends 3 hours and 25 minutes per day on social media, which will eventually add up to 6 years and 8 months of their lives.  I suppose you could argue that thanks to social media and cell phones, we are the most connected generation in human history.  

Consider this brief Youtube clip of Eric Whitacre conducting a most unusual choir performing a piece called “Sing Gently,” wherein Mr. Whitacre conducting a choir online. He invited anyone who was interested to submit video tracks of their singing in response.  That over 17,572 participating artists from 129 countries can come together without ever leaving their homes to produce this performance is a small miracle, a testament to the extent to which the internet has fundamentally altered what it means to be connected.  I heard a speaker this summer extolling the virtues of emerging technologies and a statement that resonated for me was that the power of the internet isn’t information, it’s collaboration. 

But Falmouth Academy is also about making meaningful connections “IRL” that will hopefully exceed by a wide margin any connection we might be able to make through our phones or social media accounts.  Here we are connected by a shared set of values and a common history.  Our love of learning and pursuit of scholarly excellence connect us, our pledge to treat others as we wish to be treated connects us, and our belief that learning and working in a diverse environment stimulates creative and critical thinking connects us.  

Scientists previously thought health was a function of the individual—their genes, their lifestyle choices, their environment—but increasingly, they are discovering that health is as much a function of the values of the community we inhabit and the people with which we surround ourselves.  If you prefer harder statistics to anecdotes, scientist Nicholas Christakis, in his paper entitled “Dynamic Spread of Happiness in a Large Social Network”, offers the following two discoveries.  First, connection seems to have a multiplying effect on happiness.  According to the study, if you have a friend living within a mile who becomes happy, the probability that you are happy increases by 25%, and, remarkably, if your friend’s friend is happy, your chances are 15%, and believe it or not, if your friend’s friend’s friend is happy, you are still 10% more likely to be happy.  Indeed, your happiness correlates more closely with your friend’s friend’s friend being happy than it would with a $5,000 raise! This leads me to the second discovery: people measure happiness in some very unexpected ways.  There is very little correlation between extrinsic rewards and happiness, but there is a strong one between happiness and the extent of your connections. Columnist David Brooks cited one study, which showed that “joining a group that meets even just once a month produces the same happiness gain as doubling your income. According to another, being in a long-lasting relationship with a spouse or partner produces a psychic gain equivalent to more than $100,000 a year.” 

So what’s all this got to do with us?  For the next year and beyond, Falmouth Academy is our social network, a delicate organism that must be tended to with care and concern.  In a community this tight, the actions or sense of well-being of just one of us has far-reaching implications for the actions and sense of well-being among the rest of us. When you put down the phone and listen, really listen IRL without judgment, to someone else’s point of view, someone else’s story, these are the moments when genuine connection takes place. 

Let me return to Eric Whitacre’s virtual chorus.  Of the 6,807,787 who had viewed this clip as of last Wednesday, 4,605 of them elected to contribute to the corresponding commentary section beneath the screen.  There was the usual bickering about whether it was good music or not or whether it was hard to do or not, but what struck me was that most of the comments from the anonymous somebodies were craving connection. Take the person with the screen name BleedingxBliss who wrote, ” I would absolutely LOVE to be a part of something like this. Will there be tryouts for another song soon, possibly?”  Then there’s Kimberly121295, who posted “How do I take part next time??”  And perhaps Ehianten32 says it all when they say, hopefully hyperbolically, “I’d kill to be part of it.”  

Nothing would make me happier than to hear one of you say, in reference to our school or something we do here, “I’d kill to be a part of it.” If you approach forging connections with this spirit, if you invest in the school and in each other, if you cultivate our social network—in real life—your connections will nourish you, and rightfully so, for the rest of your life.  This I wish for you and for our year together at Falmouth Academy… FTBOMH.

From the bottom of my heart.
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