Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Are We Having Real Conversations Using New Media?

Two days ago I became aware of a flurry of commenting being done on Mary Beth Hertz's blog Philly Teacher. Two posts in particular make me think about conversations: Politics and Education and Encouraging Dialogue.I would suggest you read the posts and comments in their entirety before you keep reading here.

What I have floating through my head is something that really bothers me. What if we are not really having conversations with Twitter or with blogging/commenting? Can true conversations take place when we limit ourselves to delayed back and forth dialogue? A large percentage of communication takes place through body language and we sure can't see each other when we are typing responses. I wonder if the personae I project online misrepresents who I really am (and I rarely filter anything, ask my wife ;)

The back and forth dialogue on Mary Beth's blog would suggest that no real conversation is taking place in several of the threads. It seems to be more of an outlasting match. Is there a better way to handle these moments?

Could this lack of connecting conversations explain why we still covet face-to-face conversations and are willing to spend our time and money to attend conferences?


Jason T Bedell said...

I tend to filter very little as well. I often are very careful in how I articulate things online, my opinions are usually very clear. I feel like I personally am having a lot of real conversations online because of one indisputable reason. I started blogging and using Twitter about 10 months ago. The transformation in my teaching and the evolution of my thinking has been accelerated and I am a much better educator for it. Having meaningful conversations, though, does take a lot of time and effort.

Wm Chamberlain said...

I agree these are great mediums for personal growth, but does that also mean they are great for personal conversations? I can learn a lot from a book, but I don't get to talk to the author.

max said...

There's a conversation, just a different kind. We can have conversations with letters without seeing a person. It also depends on the audience of a blog post too. For instance, on Wired.com I don't usually read the comments because there is no conversation going on, just loud-mouth know nothings.

mshertz said...

Great points. I would say that when a conversation is passionate (as many of the comments on my posts were) that some of the conversation aspect gets lost because of the medium. The passionate conversation becomes a trading of rants.

This is why I chose to disengage and end the conversation.

I have had many meaningful conversations online, as Jason has. I value them a lot. However, once meeting many of my online acquaintances face to face, I value my conversations with them even more.

Wm Chamberlain said...

@Max I would have agreed with you two days ago, but I still am not convinced. I feel I am missing out on the important part of the conversation in this case and it bothers me.

@Mary Beth Honestly, I wonder if the face-to-face conversations is what makes it hard for me to want to meet others I converse with online. I have a bit of social anxiety which is part of the problem, but I also worry about others expectations of me. I am sure that those conversations are much more revealing and enlightening though.

Jason T Bedell said...

I just read part of "The Hidden Curriculum" by John Taylor Gatto. While I don't agree with everything he says, I find it interesting to think about Chapter 4. He talks about the dehumanizing effect of networks, specifically looking at the school as a network and how it takes away from family. I've been meaning to extrapolate this to social networks in a blog post. The goal of most of our networks (Twitter, blogs, etc...) is for professional growth. We make connections, but most of the people we talk to online do not become life long friends. Some do. When the floods hit, people I know on Twitter who live locally reached out to make sure I was ok and to see if I needed a place to stay. For the most part, though, the goal seems to be to become a better teacher. The goal is not the conversation. So, it might be expected that the conversation will suffer as people are trying to serve their own disparate goals. Our networks thrive because we tend to have similar goals. When our goals are aligned, the conversation is uplifting.
I think that there are some unique issues at play that contribute to this dehumanization on social networks, so to speak. First, we're almost always multitasking. It is rare that I can ever give a Twitter conversation my full and undivided attention. I'm teaching, being a dad, etc... So, my participation is not optimal.
Second, there is the curse of anonymity. We're not totally anonymous. I feel like I know you to an extent from our conversations and interactions. However, if we were both visiting a city and walked by each other, we might never know. For some people, that is freeing. They will respond on ways online that they never would on purpose because it feels safer to say those things online.
Third, many people just are not yet skilled at conveying their meaning honestly and tactfully online. This is not something we were trained to do and it is a difficult transition for some. As they get frustrated because their position is not being made clear to others, they become more belligerent as they become more desperate.

Wm Chamberlain said...

@Jason Nice, you should have posted this and then linked it on the comment :)

I agree with your points and I am also aware that being skilled in social etiquette is not just an online problem. I know people with no social skills...

deeknow said...

Hey all. Interesting thread. I started a comment response but it got out of hand so I took WmC's advice and posted it to my blog instead. Here's the essence of my response:

The online conversation "attention" problem worries me more than the asynchronous nature of the conversations that do establish themselves. The very fact that they are not synchronous makes for more opportunities for others to engage don’t you think? We don’t have to all be in the same place at the same time.

With all the competition for content attention it’s a miracle that useful conversations can develop in this environment at all.

I believe the “magic” that happens on or between platforms is the only way to substantially improve the quality of the conversations. We may think we are the masters of our own contributions but augmenting them mechanically is the only way to sort, filter, discover and improve them in my opinion. GoogleWave may have been a step in the right direction, but we’re still waiting for the silver bullet don’t you think?

full post following:

Wm Chamberlain said...

@Dean I would have left this comment on your blog but your comments are closed. I agree with you (obviously) but I do think you may have forgotten a few tools that make real time conversations work for example IM's and Skype. Both of these work very well, but they limit participation severely. There is also now the ability to talk in real time using programs like Eluminate or CoverItLive but they also tend to limit participation by their very nature. I am still leaning towards face-to-face as the most useful of mediums to conduct conversations.

deeknow said...

Comments disabled, oh the irony :-) .. the version of WordPress on my site is badly broken re spam filtering which is why its locked out. BTW, good call re Elluminate + Skype, and of course video conferencing/telepresence in general has a lot of promise if global bandwidth ever becomes a non-issue.