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« Into the Blogosphere | Main | BlogTalk 2.0 underway »

July 1, 2004

Don't Practice? Watch your Preachin!

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Posted by Nancy White

danah posted below something that I want to pick up and run a bit farther with:

“This is precisely why it’s bloody hard to study/discuss these technologies without being a practitioner. Distance is valuable as a researcher, but it’s also limiting. You need to engage with the culture at a deep level in order to study it. Because digital technology cultures are so peculiar, you need to be involved at an intimate level. Being a lurker is just not the same. It is the practice of engaging with these technologies that makes you able to move beyond the metaphor.”

I have been harboring a bit of inner burn over the past few months as well. It stems from the ease of condemnation people seem to be able to conjure about things they have not experienced, or perhaps more importantly, not experienced in the same way as another. “If it didn’t work for me, it’s bad. I don’t care that it worked for you.”

I seethe when a “blogger” or a “wiki person” condemns as inferior a web-based discussion and call it a controlling environment. It may have been inferior to them, but for others it is a very freeing, useful and even preferred medium. I boil over when a web-based discussion person dismisses the possibility that bloggers experience “community.” Just because something gets a label slapped on it like “social software” or “old style” does not make it universally better or worse. There is far more subtlety in the context of each instance and deployment. There is the unseen ways in which users bend technology to meet their needs, irrespective of the intention of the designer. This is not taken into account.

There is insufficient experience and practice to slap labels around and make claims that completely ignore a key factor of online interaction technologies.
  • They are designed for a group experience.
  • They are almost always experienced by an individual in the isolation in interaction with their computer.

My experience is not your experience. Further more, it is hard to even describe OUR experience. We romanticize the concept of group interaction, but in truth, it is imperfect, online and offline. And online we don’t see the consequences as quickly nor are our communication antennae, trained for millennium to F2F communication, as attuned to online communication. I think we are getting better. I see changes. But I can’t see if you are smiling, frowning, curious or pissed off as you read this. And if I want to communicate and engage with you, that matters to me. (If I just want to spout and publish, well, you are out of luck!)

Circling back to danah’s observation about the need to be involved at an intimate level, I want to chime in with a big AMEN. Intimacy means being ready to let my perceptions aside for a moment and get a peek into yours. In means slowing down, experimenting, diving in, risking failure and god forbid, being wrong.

Or perhaps better, being both right and wrong which is how the world works. Context is everything and my right may be your wrong and visa versa. That’s life.

Comments (5) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: guests


1. nicolas on July 3, 2004 8:00 AM writes...

i have just completed my secondray school, yet am/have not found any school that will assepet meas afressman.

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2. Dan O'Huiginn on July 5, 2004 2:07 PM writes...

"I seethe when a "blogger" or a "wiki person" condemns as inferior a web-based discussion"

I hope your objection here is to the tone, rather than the content. The fact that a significant number of people seem to be far more comfortable with a small group of fora is pretty important, in itself and as a stepping stone to working out exactly what is good for some people and not for others, and how to improve it.

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3. Nancy White on July 5, 2004 2:23 PM writes...

Dan, yes, you correctly interpret tone as an issue. But I also think we DON'T have the data to help inform us about what people prefer. I think this is due to the fact that it is a complex question that commingles learning style, first tool-experience bias and the different levels of experience. How long does it take to adapt to a tool? Is that learning curve worth the long term value?

So yes, it is our tone of condemnation and perhaps our ability to condemn and draw broad conclutions without understanding or experience that bothers me. We need the stepping stones to understanding that you reference.

In reading your comment again, you mention "The fact that a significant number of people..." --> do you have some data to point to? I'd love any pointers. Voice tends to distort our sense of volume online. One voice can be much louder online in my experience than offline.


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4. James C on July 8, 2004 7:14 AM writes...

"My experience is not your experience". True, true. At the same time, this post seems to me to be skirting dangerously close to relativism, or at least is very conducive to a realtivistic interpretation, which in my books is a bad thing. My experience may not be yours, but... my preference might be biased in various ways, such as strong biases towards the familiar and against the new, and so on and so on. In a nutshell, just because I say I like or dislike something, doesn't mean I'm right.

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5. Nancy White on July 8, 2004 7:39 PM writes...

James, from a research point of view there is probably a danger of relativism - yup. I should have made clear that I was speaking more of what I observe happening in the practitioner community, particularly among those who have strong, well listened-to voices which influence software development and perceptions about online interaction.

In the longer view, it would be nice to have more data so we can say better what is going on. I'd love to combine my work with clients with an academic's research so we could gather more data. We'd both gain.

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