danah boyd on new habits in a connected world

I have got to meet danah boyd in real life one of these days. Her work, as revealed through her blogging, shows what can happen when you drop a well-trained, smart, and articulate observer into new environments. We all learn from her sharp attention to what is really going on. So much better than listening to what others think is going on.

She’s just posted an illuminating perspective on her recent experience at an academic conference in Italy that brought together a combination of young Turks and old farts. It’s a reflection on the slow emergence of new habits and behaviors in shared public settings; a look at how and why blackberries, twitter, backchannels, laptops, and iphones might actually be making meetings better for all concerned. Here are just a couple of quick excerpts. Go read the whole thing.

There’s no doubt that I barely understood what the speaker was talking about. But during the talk, I had looked up six different concepts he had introduced (thank you Wikipedia), scanned two of the speakers’ papers to try to grok what on earth he was talking about, and used Babelfish to translate the Italian conversations taking place on Twitter and FriendFeed in attempt to understand what was being said. Of course, I had also looked up half the people in the room (including the condescending man next to me) and posted a tweet of my own.

Blackberries and laptops are often frowned upon as distraction devices. As a result, few of my colleagues are in the habit of creating backchannels in business meetings. This drives me absolutely bonkers, especially when we’re talking about conference calls. I desperately, desperately want my colleagues to be on IM or IRC or some channel of real-time conversation during meetings. While I will fully admit that there are times when the only thing I have to contribute to such dialogue is snark, there are many more times when I really want clarifications, a quick question answered, or the ability to ask someone in the room to put the mic closer to the speaker without interrupting the speaker in the process.

My colleagues aren’t that much older than me but they come from a different set of traditions. They aren’t used to speaking to a room full of blue-glow faces. And they think it’s utterly fascinating that I poll my twitterverse about constructs of fairness while hearing a speaker talk about game theory. Am I learning what the speaker wants me to learn? Perhaps not. But I am learning and thinking and engaging.

What will it take for us to see technology as a tool for information enhancement? At the very least, how can we embrace those who learn best when they have an outlet for their questions and thoughts? How I long for being connected to be an acceptable part of engagement.

I want my cyborg life
Mon, 13 Jul 2009 18:16:26 GMT