Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Tremendous Power Shift Underway In Connecting With Each Other On The New 'Main Street'

MJ at Cocoa Beach. Photo by Michael Pelzer
By Michael J Morris

Howard Rheingold, one of the pioneers of virtual communities, said, more thn 20 years ago, that " a tremendous power shift is underway ... this power shift is about people and our ability to connect with each other in new ways... " 

Speaking at the first Writers' Retreat on Interactive Technology and Equipment conference sponsored by the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University and Emily Carr College of Art and Design, Rheingold noted in 1994 that he was struck by the "citizen-to citizen movement now known as virtual community" popping up everywhere he travelled.

I was at the conference preparing to teach my first Writing for New Media course at College of the Rockies where I was also working on a grad program in New Media Communications launched a year later. 

Very few people at the time agreed with Rheingold and other internet pioneers who believed as I did that we were embarking on the biggest societal change in communications since the days of Gutenberg and his printing press. 

Fast forward to now! You don't hear much about virtual communities now, as all the talk is about social networking, the fastest growing and popular use of the internet. The power shift has occurred despite the naysayers then and now, because of our need to connect, one with the other, especially because we now live in the world of many-to-many medium or one-to-one as Rheingold also predicted.

Simply put, a virtual community is any online community, a social network of people who interact through one of the social media. 

Our Main Street has been redefined. It is anywhere globally. I have Facebook friends in Canada, the United States, Israel, Germany, etc, and I stay in touch with all friends 24/7 whereever we are.
Take the popularity of Facebook for example. I joined  at the suggestion of some of my former students about six years ago, and I extend great thanks to them. I have been able to reconnect with so many people with whom I had lost touch for many years, and catch up on their lives. Facebook is also an example of the success of new media with its convergence of all media to digital forms.

At any given time on Facebook, "friends" are using text, still photos, videos and all kind of cool things to communicate with one another and a broader audience if they wish. One-to-one and many-to-many!!!

However, the communications potential of Facebook and Twitter is not being maximized as far too often it is simply a one-way street. For example, journalists use Twitter primarily in my view to retweet among themselves as part of some mutual admiration society.  However, it is improving now.

While teaching new media at COTR I made many fearless predictions about where we were headed. At times I really didn't have a clue but knew something big was happening.

By 1998 at least five of my students were involved in online romances, and if memory serves me right, three had gone off to meet their new loved one. They met in chat rooms.

One day in the lab, one student who was deeply involved in chat rooms was pounding away on her computer, when suddenly in a burst of anger rushed from the room, went outside and lit a cigarette. I went out to see what had happened. It turns out that the virtual friend turned out to be a he instead of a she, or vice versa, I just forget, but the emotions were every bit as real as in any budding romance in real time.

In the COTR library where students had access to computers, they were banned by the powers-that-be from accessing chat rooms, which in those days was the main reason the students wanted to use the computers. To me it was a sure sign that big changes could not be far off. The kids were way ahead in social networking, while the established order wanted to ban them from the practice. Now kids are "tweeting" and "facebooking" -- at least for the moment. Plus Instagram and a host of others.

And yes, there are extremes. Recently, a friend told me he was in a restaurant with his son and one of his friends and for about 15 minutes they were busy texting on their phones. Finally, he asked who they were texting. It turned out they were texting each other.

When I think of it though, my generation liked to pass notes around the classroom to our friends, which of course was forbidden. Now they stay in touch by texting each other, and using Facebook, Twitter, etc. 

I would love to hear your comments on social networking and its place in your life, and how you enjoy staying connected with others. You can leave comments here or my email is mj.morris@live.ca 

2 comments:

  1. Well, we're in danger of producing a generation of socially inept people, a la the kids texting to each other in the restaurant. I find social skills in the young, such as looking someone in the eye, saying hello, shaking hands, and having a face to face real time, real person conversation have declined...
    Anonymous (says it all right there....)

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  2. It disturbs me greatly. There are no cards and handwritten letters anymore. There's nothing personal about a text or tweet. God forbid kids have to go outside and play. No instead they are on the is phones or tablets communicating, or so it would seem. I think young people do not have the same manners as my generation did (I am 63). Talk on the phone. Shake someone's hand. Look them in the eyes. If this generation is this bad, God help the next generation.

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