Over the last day I have been discussing the effect of social networking on summer camps with the parent of a camper (@warrenss see his blog post on the topic). The camps that I work for have just started using Twitter, and so far I am doing the bulk of the tweeting. On top of my other responsibilities at camp, this is a fun one, but it is complicated and time consuming.
One might ask: “how hard can it be to post some 140 character messages throughout the day?” But it is really far more complicated than that. First and foremost, we have to make sure that we protect the privacy of our campers while still tweeting about what is going on at camp. Second, there is only one of me, and I can’t be everywhere at once. If you know camp, there is always something going on everywhere at the same time.
Then there is the issue of followers and following people. So far, we have been trying to limit our followers to parents, campers, staff, and alumni. We are not currently following anyone. It raises interesting questions because services like Twitter are designed to facilitate two way communication. I am not an administrator of the camp, so how would I deal with parents who start replying and/or posting questions. Most of the administration is busy all summer making sure that camp runs smoothly for 8 weeks, the last thing they want to have to do is moderate our Twitter accounts. We also can’t tweet what every camper in camp is doing every moment of the day, so how do you deal with the parents who feel like their kid doesn’t get enough “tweet” time?
The whole media/social media at camp is an interesting conundrum. Camp is supposed to be a vacation, a get-away from the normal. We collect all the kids cell phones, campers don’t have internet access, and they only get 15 minutes on the phone each week. On the flip side, here we are, the staff, trying to broadcast over whatever channels are available the goings on at camp. We upload photos to the camp website every day, videos about once a week. Now we are tweeting throughout the day. Why? I thought we were trying to get away from all that when we come here.
I remember going to camp as a camper, it wasn’t really that long ago (although some of our younger campers weren’t even born when I started going to camp). We didn’t have phone times when I was camper, you called your parents from pay phones on trip days, if you wanted to. We wrote letters as our major means of communicating with the outside world. I still write letters, by hand, with pen and paper when i come to camp. Sure, I can email and IM my friends and family while I am here, but there is something magical about putting pen to paper when you are here.
What does it say about where we are headed when I come to camp with a case of hard drives, DVD burners, video and still cameras, a computer, and an iPhone? Parents spend almost $10K to send one child to camp for 8 weeks. Then, as soon as the kids get here, the parents just want to hear from them. I usually have office duty one night each week. I take phone calls from parents and page kids to the office for their phone times. We also take phone calls during meals and have kids leave the meals to talk to parents, that seems somewhat odd to me as well. Maybe I don’t understand it because I never had it. Maybe I don’t understand because my parents were thrilled to get rid of me and my siblings for the summer!
So, does all this change camp? In some respects, yes, in others, no. Camp is still a get-away, a place that is very different from real life. Friendships are still as tight as ever here, and kids love to be here.
It is a very interesting thing to think about it, and certainly warrants some additional pondering as the summer goes on.