Bell, J. G. (2006). The fifth principle of dialogue: A technique, theory and philosophy of cultivating change. M.A. Whole Systems Design thesis, Antioch University Seattle, Seattle, WA.
Isaacs, W. (1999b). “Dialogic leadership.” Systems Thinker Vol 10 No 1, Feb 1999. Pegasus Communications, Inc.
Isaacs, W. (1999a). Dialogue and the art of thinking together. New York: Currency Doubleday.
Manjoo, F. (2009). Twitter’s not a Google Killer. It’s not a Facebook killer, either. Slate. Retr on Mar 7, 2009 from http://www.slate.com/id/2213036/
In the end, it turns out that like a fish in water, I’ve been swimming in the dialogical environment of social media without seeing it myself. When I go back and look at my own experiences, and my longing for lost spaces online, I find clear indications in my own experience that online dialogue is real, possible and desirable. Further, this suggests that being possible, there should be ways to increase the likelihood of dialogue emerging and generally enhancing social media as dialogical information space.
Further research is clearly indicated, and I’ll get right on that once I check my e-mail and twitter some friends that I finished writing this …
Re-humanizing Self and Others
The faceless face is ubiquitous online, but still there is clearly a sense of seeking personality in contacts. The restless search and follow of luminaries is one example of an attempt to create human connection, but also in the somewhat complete insistence on real human communication versus one-way information flow typical from organizations there is clear indication that re-humanizing is desired and needed. The radical anthropomorphizing of the mar rover via Twitter is an example of humanizing information in online social media. The distaste for following tweets that are merely pipelined from RSS or non-interactive sources is another example, although one that is somewhat fuzzy based on personal preference and immediate personal relevancy of the information, which is a kind of humanizing. And, the normalization of the human condition possible in these environments is reciprocal.
In many ways the liminality and physical unreality of social media and online environments helps to decontextualize people from preconceptions based on many of the factors usually applied to others. The effect of information overload also has the emergent effect of disabling the unrequited judgments usually imposed on others in slower paced information space. Although historically, prior generational social media like BBS and Usenet were rampantly infused with judgementalisms such as flame wars and grammar nazis, the ephemeral, passing nature of media like instant messages and Twitter disable the sense that polish is required or that mistakes are character traits. Euphemistically, the Internet isn’t thought to be authoritative even when utilized for information gathering, so people start with some sense of suspension about any information, even their own, while online. When everything is questionable, certainty is inherently suspended.
Search for Shared Meaning
The aspects of social media to mediate an environment consisting of shared intelligence offers an immediate substrate of shared experience and meaning generally uncoupled from prior constructs typical in physical spaces and in prior social contexts. Participants in social media contexts are engaged in adding value to each other’s experiences through distributed thinking and meaning making.
Framing in a Larger Context
A recent article on Slate (Manjoo, 2009) pointed out that twitter is a constant flow that plugs people into the ever changing zeitgeit of the moment. This is a connection to something larger than the self. Each instance of synchronicity or serendipity in the information exchanged through social media seems to reinforce this sense of something big going on. In fact, the sense that something is happening creates itself to some extent, as the frisson inherent in movements within a social mob are an instant positive feedback loop building something bigger than merely the additive numerical activities of the participants. While often temporary, the shared history of internet memes, like Badger Badger or the New Zealand profile blackout, are all examples of not only shared history but new and creative forms of collectivity.
Balancing Autonomy and Community
Social Media tools mediate the web of information community through facilities that both create and limit connections. There is an inside and outside to social media on many levels, and these concentric and sometimes overlapping levels of connection are defined by the meniscus which determines boundaries. While there is a digital divide, there is also the strange occurrence of having social networks crash together through some previously hidden degree of separation snapping into place. While there are invites, nudges, messages and winks; there are also blocks and ignores. The social lines within social media are both well-drawn and permeable.
Balancing Facilitation and Creativity
Functional constraints within social media services are a form of facilitation, but the clearly ludic and liminal characteristics of the environments created are a balance. People are given clear tools to filter and control their information, imaginal, place. But, people are also encouraged to explore connections both new and recovered through common interests and topics declared in profiles and in contextual folksonomic classifications within immediate communication and the ability to reconnect to underutilized contact lists, such as importing entire e-mail address books. Social media is mediated, but also liberating.
Cultivating of Dynamic Balance in Self and Others
The apparent, functional alignment within the larger circle of engagement through social media is in some ways its own reward. Within the dialogical environment, the principles mentioned above of community, autonomy, facilitation and creativity are all practiced on individual and community levels. Each participant cultivates their own practices of Isaacs’ dialogic leadership (1999), as well as, and moreover, cultivating those practices in others through both subtle and gross influences, interactions and collective thinking. Together this cultivating self and others is the fifth practice of dialogue I identify in my Thesis (2006) and add to Issacs’ model. The outcome of this cultivating is change fostered by and in the dialogic process.
Qualitative Time & Space
The creative and generative aspects of social media induce a natural ludic atmosphere. The ‘place’ in which this engagement occurs is highly liminal, in that it is not mundane space, meatspace and is open, even within the technological constraints in which it forms, to the possibility of quality over quantity.
The asynchronous nature of communication is also a foray into kairos as opposed to chronos, being unstructured by normal time; able to flow in and out of time where a thread can pick up, as if never dropped, in seemingly magic ways. While at the same time, the immediacy of the environment in has a quality of unreal to it; such as the apparent relative immediacy of a BBS or e-mail to bridge distance and periodicity of other modes of communication, but moreover the now seeming instantaneousness of tools like instant messaging or Twitter at bridging distance, real and imaginal, between people.
Good Faith & Willingness
Although I find dysfunctional in general the an almost unnatural proclivity to to trust others, their statements and identities, online; this points to the presence of good faith by participants in the social media. The willingness to engage is also significant not only with familiar contacts but also with strangers, to the point that it seems in a social media environment unknown people are in some sense instantaneously already familiar strangers merely by being present in the environment.
The fact that trust can be broken through faked identity or malicious spoofing in the online environment merely points to the a priori, already present and existing, good faith and willingness of people to engage.