controversy with civility

One of the trends within this blog (I think) is me trying to figure out how relationships work online.  I’m not talking eHarmony here, but I am talking about how we, as students affairs professionals (and humans) connect to one another and build relationships with students with Web 2.0.  The fourth “thing” for the 13 things @ Coe is all about connecting to one another.  In addition to creating and continuing our own blogs, we are now required to comment on and “follow” a few others’ blogs.  I was already reading quite a few of them, mostly out of curiosity, but now I’m an official follower.  I’m the only one not on blogger, though, so following isn’t working quite right between blogger and wordpress — mostly, I have no idea when their blogs are updated, so following doesn’t seem to be mattering much.  Like many other things in Web 2.0, though, I have found a way to deal with it!

Comments, discussions, forums, and all things interactive on Web 2.0 usually leave me a little leery, and for good reason.  Many of my colleagues (whose blogs I now follow : ) have noted the inconsistency of valuable feedback and discussion on the websites of our local news affiliates and other such boards.  And by invaluable, I mean rude, angry, and otherwise a waste of time.  I wanted to dig deeper into my leeriness about online feedback, so I have a bit of a trip down memory lane in store for you.

I remember when we first got the Internet!  I was in junior high, and I quickly became accustomed to ICQ (a precurser to AIM and many other messaging services) and chat rooms.  Lots of creepy folks were there, but my general ignorance made connecting with folks from all over the world really cool.  Web 2.0 = A.

Moving forward…

There’s a lot of time in the middle here (like high school), but I don’t remember any major additions to my interaction with the Internet until college.  One of my favorite authors/artists is Brian Andreas, creator of Storypeople.  I found an amazing forum called chatchatchat on the Storypeople website.  How fun!  The people there shared writing, poetry, stories, and my general love for all things Storypeople!  This was an online community I knew I fit in with.  I added a few poems, and eventually became a “regular” on the site, contributing my own writing and commenting on others’ work.  “starr” was ingrained in the daily happenings on chatchatchat and I felt a deep sense of ownership for the community there.  Then a few things happened.  The most prevalent in my memory is a deep seeded argument over what content ought to be “allowed” on chatchatchat.  Some felt as if writing stories and sharing poems was the purpose of the forum, no questions asked.  Others were enjoying sharing little thoughts for the day, including some not so happy (more like depressing teenage lovesickness) stories.  One member in particular called for another member to get over her useless teenage drama and only write about “real” stories.  It was such a painful argument, and it tore me up inside.  I stopped visiting chatchatchat on a daily basis for my daily dose of a smile and connection to a writing community.  I wrote a long plea to Brian Andreas himself (as did many other chatchatchat members), asking him to moderate this hateful discussion.  Brian eventually stepped in and defended both sides of the argument; I was particularly impressed at that point in his ability to honor that we are not all happy all of the time and that’s okay.  Now, when you check out chatchatchat, you’ll find a few different forums, each with their own “topic.”  Order was added and chaos debunked…for awhile anyway.  I strayed from chatchatchat, though “starr” and the person I was able to be in that community will always stay with me.  In a way, that part of me has resurfaced in this blog and in my ability to “verbally” process through writing.  Web 2.0 = B-

While in college, I also developed an insatiable love of Iowa Hawkeye Football.  I was one of those crazy people who got up at 5 am not to tailgate, but to show up outside the stadium and stand in line to get in.  We’d take a rapt pleasure in being the first at the gate.  Exactly 90 minutes before the start of the pregame, the Per Mar security guards opened the gates and we poured into the student section.  I had an impressively amazing tactic to get to the front row first — I ran down the bleachers, not the stairs.  In four years, we managed seats on the five yard line at every single game except one.  Iowa State, 2002.  I fell down, we sat second row, and Iowa lost.  Coincidence?  I think not.  This is how big of an Iowa Football Fan I am.  I was even featured in the media guide and on a U of I postcard (I’m in the striped sweater — one of my mom’s saved from the 80’s).

During this time of insane fandom, I frequented football chat boards on sites like ESPN.  I knew all sorts of crazy stats and figures, and spent time chatting with other fans about how amazing Iowa was.  I stopped being part of that community as I saw the other side of the intensity of fans — the anger.  People from other schools would go to Iowa’s fan page (and vice versa) and write mean, nasty things.  I’ve always been a fan of a healthy rivalry, but most of these comments got out of line and instigated some angry arguments.  This is when I first realized the anonymity the web provided gave a lot of people the license to say things they always wanted to say, but didn’t for fear of the negative consequences.  No harm done when the person on the other end is some loser from another school, right?  Wrong.  At least in my book.  Web 2.0 = D+

Flash forward many more years to today.

My interaction with Web 2.0 and online communities is far more entrenched than I would have believed when I first discovered this amazing thing called the Internet.  At the same time, I would say I am picky about my involvement.

  • Facebook is a minor addiction — I “like” posts, share links, stalk photos and share all kinds of things about myself.  The shift to my willingness to engage here?  No anonymity.  I know who people are, and if I don’t, I can make sure they don’t know anything about me.  I can also control who posts on my wall and who I see on my news feed.  Ah, order in my world again…
  • I participate in one and only one online forum, Danes Online, and it is a recent addition to my life.  It’s a mixed bag.  I like that, like chatchatchat, there are different sections, so I can only read what is pertinent to me.  For example, I don’t feed my pup raw or home cooked food, so I only check out the kibble posts.  I have met some really amazing people in real life after connecting with them on DOL — my online community connected me in real life, and I am incredibly grateful for that.  There are tons of amazing people on the forums who will answer the same question a hundred times because they love Great Danes and want to help people who are taking care of Great Danes.  At the same time, there is tension.  Like in any learning community, some people have more knowledge than others, and some people have a greater sense of “I should be listened to” than others.  There is a general theme of “put on your big girl panties” and deal with what I have to say because even if it’s harsh, I’m right and you need to do what I advise or you are a bad dog owner who does not deserve a Great Dane or any other mutt so go away now.  This is a major trigger for me.  Granted, it’s rarely that straightforward, but there is a general community of “old timers” and it’s not always welcoming.  I have stuck around because there is really valuable information there, and if you read between the lines, some really great people to connect with.
  • I read blogs, but like Rachael, I lurk 99% of the time; I don’t care to get involved in what feels like unhealthy discourse.  Most often, I don’t even read the comments because it always frustrates me.  Ah, back to the topic at hand!

Web 2.0 overall current grade = B+ (with a strong possibility of an A-)

Much like my participation in DanesOnline, commenting and following others’ blogs (and having others do the same for me) gives me both a sense of excitement and nervousness.  On one hand, I have been reading a few of the blogs pretty regularly and that won’t change now that I’m “required” to do it.  I have found it interesting that most folks have a similar reaction to many of the thought-provoking questions as I did; that’s right — no original thought here : )  At the same time, I worry a little bit about it.  What if no one reads my blog, comments on it or follows it?  Yikes!  I might feel even less connected than I started out.

I chose to follow a few colleagues’ blogs.  Mostly, I chose the blogs of folks who I know personally pretty well.  I’m following Tom, Laura, and Rachael.  Mostly, I feel like I can have conversations with all of these folks outside of our blogs (though we haven’t).  It’s also a little less intimidating to comment on their blogs since I “know” them.   I do secretly hope that this blog makes its way into the lives of people outside my immediate circle, so I suppose I have to get over some of those fears and jump into Web 2.0.  I feel much more comfortable when there are some boundaries and order.  When participating in an online community, much like participating in any live community, it is important to understand the rules and culture.  Understanding them does not mean you have to follow them, though!

I spent the last week teaching leadership to some amazing young folks at the Belin-Blank Center at the U of I.  We focused our attention to the Social Change Model of Leadership Development and it’s “7 C’s.”  One of those is controversy with civility.  It seems that one of the pitfalls of online communities and the ways in which both professionals and students share their writing is a lack of civility.  Just yesterday, I watched a youtube video of the “world’s reaction” to USA’s last minute goal in the World Cup.  There’s a lot to be said about the title in and of itself, but the comments section lit up with folks assailing one another for being terrorists, etc.  I read three comments and closed the browser.

I still feel some dissonance over wanting Web 2.0 to be experienced to its fullest; giving each participant the opportunity to share expertise, open doors, and allow all voices.  My gut and my experiences tell me that I still struggle to truly value all voices, especially the uncivil ones.  So I want rules and order.  I’m sure there’s a balance to find here, but I’m not sure I’m done exploring it.

Okay, novel paused, for now.

until next time, ekg

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Filed under 13 things @ Coe, life stuff, social media, student affairs, technology

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