Thursday, May 1, 2008

Collaboration as a Vague but Insistent Yearning

Blogs, Wikis, Web-conference Break-out Rooms, List-serves, Text chat, MySpace and FaceBook. I move from one to another, staring, not really sure what features or services I need or want. I experiment. Play. Load photos. And link this to that. But at the end of the day, there is something oddly lonely and strident about it. There's a deafening silence in the midst of all the apparent hyper-communicativity. When I stand back and squint at it, I think it's no wonder. People in the United States have been enculturated, educated, trained, groomed, and massively shoved towards individualism. Systematically. Institutionally. As an ideology. As a set of behaviors.

Americans yearn to interact, to work together, to form durable communities, but we've been warned against it. I almost never see a blog with lively responses (dialog!) in the comment fields. Of course, part of that has to do with the sheer number of blogs that are out there, and the inane nature of most posts. But even the good ones--the thoughtful, provocative, well-crafted essay posts--are monologues. One mind thinking. One speaker talking.

For a moment or three, I am tempted to stare at my feet, hang my head and concede that perhaps I'm part of the older generation (now obsolete, right?). Maybe I'm a "type"--a representative member of a cynical, cranky, tech-weary demographic.

But... I support online college courses for a living, and just yesterday a freshman with computer issues was whining about how she had done all the work in her "Group Wiki Project."

The age-old challenge of listening to others, hearing them, and responding thoughtfully--my ad hoc, operational definition of "conversation"--is as demanding and difficult, and apparently as seldom practiced as ever. If we can't even talk to each other, how on earth is it possible to work together effectively?! Bristling with new gadgets, we can now contact everyone on the planet six new ways, four times as fast.

The question really is: "Can you hear me now?!"

1 comment:

dot said...

You are such a pedantic, boring person. Lighten up! Unplug. Go work in the yard. But don't mistake your isolation for the fun that a lot of us are having. We're dating, swapping stories and selling each other old junk from the back fo the garage, posting funny home videos, taking the whole pen pal thing to delightful new levels, learning stuff (come on--I see you at DictionaryDotCom).

Your Alter Ego.