The importance of going native

This is the kind of post that makes us happy to see folks like Nancy White join the ranks of bloggers. Insightful, based on experience, and, already, well tuned to the emerging standards and conventions of blogging. danah’s original post that triggered Nancy’s post is also well worth following up on as well.

I’m one of those, for example, who finds web-based discussion less satisfying than blogging. Denham, on the other hand, appears to prefer web-based discussion. But he has made the effort to try the alternatives and can ground his preferences in that experience. You need to “go native” long enough to grasp what makes each of these new experiences worthwhile in their own right. You can’t stop at the metaphorical level. And you can’t stay detached.

There are two reasons I prefer blogging over web-based discussion. First, it allows me to get my own thoughts in order at my own pace. I lose the thread in threaded discussions. Second, blogs make it easier for me to find and link to others’ thinking. The conversation moves at a slower pace and in chunks I find more satisfying.

All of these tools ought to be in the repetoire of any knowledge worker. But that requires a commitment to experimenting and working with the tools long enough to discover their signature rhythms and styles. That runs counter to software marketing practices that emphasize “out of the box experince” over time enough to learn how to use the tools and fit them to your needs. Those of us who are scouts in these new territories need to think about how to ease the transition for the settlers who will follow.

Don’t Practice? Watch your Preachin!. danah posted on Many2Many something that I want to pick up and run witha bit farther:

“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.

Also posted at Many2Many
[Full Circle Associates Online Interaction & Community Blog]