WebWise: Taking Us Where No One has Gone Before

By Charles Thomas
IMLS Senior Program Officer

The 2012 WebWise Conference  is a few days away and I have a special reason to be excited! I am a Trekkie, and this year’s opening keynote presenter is LeVar Burton — a.k.a. character Geordi La Forge in the 1987-1994 television series Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Credit: NASA, ESA, R. O'Connell (University of Virginia), F. Paresce (National Institute for Astrophysics, Bologna, Italy), E. Young (Universities Space Research Association/Ames Research Center), the WFC3 Science Oversight Committee, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

In her January 12 post on this same blog, Maren Dougherty listed many of Mr. Burton’s other important roles and the contributions he is making as an advocate for libraries, museums, and other educational institutions. As a librarian and a father of two children, I am grateful for the work he is doing.

However, as stated before, I’m a Trekkie. I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Star Trek fan who still buys and builds starship models, quotes lines from the original and later television series, and watches reruns over and over again with the same enthusiasm I had as a child. My children just last week gave me as a 45th birthday gift, a blue shirt with the distinctive gold insignia on the chest. Being a Trekkie was and remains my original “community of interest,” one I joined when I first discovered in my local public library an entire shelf full of published books of collected Star Trek stories written by other fans. At that point, I realized the scale of a global fan base drawn to a vision of humanity overcoming many of its contemporary problems, and a spirit of exploration and learning on a galactic scale. The alien cultures and cool technology didn’t hurt, either.

Over the course of my childhood I found and joined a limited number of physical spaces inhabited by others Trekkies. As the publicly accessible Internet emerged in my early adulthood, I began using Trekkie-related online spaces to explore, share creative expressions, and expand a lifelong connection to other members of this community.

In my four years working at IMLS, WebWise conferences have been an opportunity to meet with attendees and presenters who can see the future and those who are making the future happen today. In their own way, WebWise attendees and participants also are members of a large and distributed community of interest comprised of individuals and organizations dedicated to exploring the educational and cultural opportunities made possible by digital technologies.

So, when I am sitting in the conference listening to LeVar Burton’s presentation, I expect I will be engaged in two ways – by the vision he presents of the future of learning and the connection he represents to me, a future vision that has captivated me since childhood.

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