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Facebook Trails

One of the things I like about social media, is the immediacy and the ability to connect to your friends, fans and followers in a simple but real way.  

I have used my Mayor facebook page www.facebook.com/ChrisFriel2010 effectively to communicate with the public; to engage in thoughtful and, at times, passionate debate.  Facebook allows me to poll people on what is important, what is it that makes a difference to you living in Brantford.

Twitter is not as effective at polling, but it does allow for people to follow along and to get a sense of the events and major happenings occuring in the city. I have announced, and then tweeted the meetings and events of a whole day to allow people to see what the Mayor does in the course of the day, and it allows me the opportunity to write about and photograph events to create that immediacy of connection.

Social media is tool to communicate, technology meeting human interaction, but it is only a tool and should not be seen as a singular replacement for the connection of our senses to the natural world around us.

Facebook polling is an effective tool and I have often asked people what it is that you love about Brantford, and invariably, the thing people most love about Brantford is the trails.  The beautiful trails that run throughout the city and that are used by so many as a retreat from the day-to-day grind of life in 21st century Canada.  A place where the solitary runner can challenge himself, or a family can go for a bike ride safe in the knowledge that that new two wheeler, fresh from the removal of the training wheels, can dawdle along all the while building that sense of adventure that we all crave.

Fireflies were a foreign concept to me as a child, we knew about them, and on occasion you might think you saw one in the backyard of suburbia, but there was never an understanding of their magic.  I took a walk on the trails with my friends Stan Gorecki and Bob Yuhasz one fine summer evening, and we happened to leave the trail to brave the dark single trail of the forest.  What we walked into was a twinkling tunnel of fireflies -- all around us, both sides, ahead, behind and over-head -- hundreds of them.  Magic.

I have taken my children on many a firefly walk along the trails, behind Glenhyrst has some good spots, but the best, I think, remains the areas around Waterworks Park and along the trails.  The other evening we walked to Wilkes Dam and then past toward Waterworks and the light show from the trail was wonderful.

Fireflies aren't the only wildlife, or for that matter, magic along the trails; turkies, heron, dragonflies, skunks, racoons, and in the autumn an abundance of deer. On one July walk, Wendy and I saw a beautiful fox trot across the trail and just around the bend from that, we saw a painted turtle laying its eggs on the side of the trail.

This is the power of social media as I tweeted and facebooked a photo of this event for others to see the majesty of life in Brantford.  Within seconds the first comments and "likes" appeared as people were able to experience what we saw on the trails.  I was careful, even here, not to mention where I saw the turtle, because a steady stream of gawkers could increase the already very high risk to the eggs.

I have also photographed Wilkes Dam and facebooked and tweeted the photos to see a series of "likes" and comments, including a surprising number from Brantford people living abroad who were feeling homesick when they saw one of their favorite spots in the world.  On a walk with Wendy, I sent photos of a favourite pairing of grand old trees out to facebook, and was surprised how many people commented on knowing that spot and enjoying seeing them while stuck in front of their computers.

Even the evening before writing this, I was emailing with the Expositor's John Chambers, asking when he could expect to see this column (I am notoriously bad at writing the columns in the morning and delivering them right at the deadline) and he was lamenting just returning from vacation.  Because I was walking across the Northwest Pedestrian bridge, I took a shot and sent it along with the subject line "A vacation scene in Brantford."

Social media is a tool, and it is a powerful tool.  My love of the trails can be shared with thousands of friends, fans and followers and people can experience what I am experiencing and right at the moment it is happening.

We associate social media with being glued to a computer screen, but now it is the real-time connection for all of us to experience people and places that we might not be able to experience first hand.  It opens doors and can create a desire for people to visit somewhere they have never been before, for example, people can see how incredible and breath-takingly beautiful the trail views can be.  They can recognize that you don't need to go to cottage country to find the sense of seperation necessary to recharge their batteries.

Social media is not a replacement for the real world, it is an invitation to experience the world around us; and demonstrate that wonderful human trait of wanting to share our joy and sense of wonder.

Check out LoveMyBrantford.ca and www.facebook.com/pages/Love-MY-Brantford

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