One word review: Intricate.
Two word review: Forcing emotions.
Three word review: Get it now.
I sat in a class on ‘Design of Online Communities’ which discussed multi-user conversations as a means to drive an online community. While talking about engagement, we were asked to believe that people who are farther away from each other are less likely to reciprocate in online exchanges of information. We did not speculate about the possible causes for this. I thought online communities were supposed to bring people closer. The focus here is on the geographical distance between users participating in online communities. When you think about international students’ class participation through their initial months at undergraduate and graduate classes, you see that they remain disoriented; they are silent spectators in almost all discussions as they feel less informed than others present in class. The problem is that there is a perceived as well as true lack of location-based and cultural context. Participants understanding this context are more likely to articulate their thoughts freely. Not everybody expresses the same level of interest in sports like American Football or Cricket. The flexibility to create local sub-communities, or the ability to remain anonymous are methods implemented by online communities to increase user engagement in such a situation. But what these online communities have achieved then is not bring those people together but have them co-exist as two separate groups.
The word ‘community’ has had its meaning change several times over the past few decades. We talked about radial categories and words simply representing prototypes and our definition of those prototypes. What then is the true sense of any word? There is a word that is often misused by folks who care about Human-Computer Interaction: intuitive. ‘Transparent’ might be a more accurate representation of people’s usage of the word. On website communities, ‘friend’ is another such radial category having different meanings in different contexts. I was previously convinced that the true meaning of ‘friend’ had been diluted beyond repair. In the study of ethnography, we might observe that such change in how we perceive literature, objects and ideas is natural. But it might be important to consider whether it is natural for there to be a clear difference in the meaning of words such as ‘like’ or ‘favorite’ when used on the internet, in offline conversations and when the written word is formal. I still cannot consume that we are producing text that has different meanings depending on the medium we choose to express ourselves.
Continuing to talk about the subject of communities, unlike the rest of the class I feel that the level of intimacy has been reduced considerably because of our new styles of interacting with, and increased dependence on what we now call ‘Social Media’. Our interactions with online communities in the form of check-ins and posts have become so frequent and interspersed in our lives, we now fail to discern what was earlier deemed as being an exclusive form of online interaction. Some of these experiences distract us because it is that distraction that allows them to have a business model. Websites and apps that serve very specific needs can be successful at creating a superior experience for us, but they have to charge you something for their development. The design inevitably suffers if they cannot convince users to spend money on the product themselves. There is a clear cost of privacy the moment something becomes free. There would never otherwise have been a change in an application’s terms of service that everybody got a chance to complain about momentarily. But as I had mentioned here previously, there is a tested formula for deceit. But I now understand that these deceitful ways are part of the compromise of having a more useful connected future. We are no longer complaining about Google’s source of revenue being a violation of our privacy. We are no longer worried about how Facebook uses our data. We think LinkedIn is good because we are limiting it to our professional lives. Our thought process is skewed, and we constantly have to defend our decisions because our actions tend to contradict our own past opinions. Hilarious.
Frustrations are motivating. People have to be better than me. I have to have the relentless need to reach beyond the level and lives of the people that make it seem like I am miles away from my goals. I have to be able to begin new sentences on a different note, as I end one with a period. The need to do better, be better. Invigorating, challenging, and enlightening.
To be able to try, fail, and still say you have nothing to lose. You experiment some more and get better at certain specific things. To spend years thinking as being on the right path; when all that path really is, is something set out by general and mostly artificial expectations of the combination of peer pressure and our need to see ourselves succeed in the same way as others we have seen before us. There is nothing novel in taking the road less travelled and the path less trodden. But it is disconcerting to not have your own perspective about how that path might affect you.
Have brain, use well. Do something that affects you in a powerful way. Create rules that help you understand what freedom means to you in your world. Know that limitations are but constraints that help you understand how you can shine. Have perspectives, let them evolve and drive change around them.