Shoot first ask questions later

The beauty of the two-way web is that it allows someone to post their thinking on any given subject with ease, with the opportunity to receive feedback. As a result an online conversation might develop that is mutually satisfying and beneficial to all involved. Most of the time these conversations are based on virtual encounters with the participants not actually meeting in meatspace. The participants build up a view of each other’s identities based on online characteristics exhibited for example through activities like writing about a subject on a blog, other published work or observations of interaction with others in online discussions. However, a person’s online identity is always incomplete to some degree like a jigsaw with a load of pieces missing. We cannot readily assess a mood, facial expression or have insight into the wider context in which a person is operating. Therefore, when trying to make sense of someone online, we fill in the blank spaces of their persona with our own perceptions, both negative or positive, of what the pieces of their jigsaw might look like based on our own contexts, traits and experiences. When there is disagreement or misunderstanding on the web then the clarity of the big picture of people’s personalities and characters is often lost in favour of pursuing the cloudiness of the missing pieces of the puzzle. Flaming is the annoying extreme of this tendency.

Now meeting face-to-face doesn’t solve these issues either but I’m sure that it does provide you with pieces of the identity jigsaw that you can’t get online. I have enjoyed meeting Ewan McIntosh and James Farmer on separate occassions over the last months. I’ve drunk beer with them and waxed lyrical about the educational benefits of social software with them. They both have that welcome combination of vision, enthusiasm and realism, inspiring enough for me to begin blogging again after a long layoff. It was initially a real surprise therefore, when I read of their recent spat, particularly as I was quoted in the midst of it all. I reckon that they could have had a similar discussion face to face and after a few slurps of the amber nectar, the blank pieces of each other’s jigsaw would have been filled in and they would have moved on.

But the web is different and seems to somehow add more weight to disagreements. However, we should not be afraid of shooting our ideas from the hip, of showing our thinking in progress on the blog as well as our finished masterpieces. This is actually creativity and accountability in action because people can respond to what is written with their own ideas, questions and feedback. We should also not be afraid to robustly defend what we believe or to ask questions of others when we feel we have been wronged. The freedom to do both of these things is what will break us out of the edu-blogging echo chamber and allow us have ultimately productive conversations. Flaming may be something we want to avoid but let’s not replace it with a civility that is based on a measured blandness.

6 thoughts on “Shoot first ask questions later

  1. I wouldn’t call it a spat… more of a robust discussion ;)

    Actually I agree with you here, I’ve spent quite a lot of time *not* writing stuff because it’s unbalanced, I’m in a bad mood or my mothers voice rises in my ears about not having anything good to say…

    But lately I’ve figured sod it, there’s much more value in being a bit more off the cuff (as long as it’s arguably fair), and then having a discussion about it than there is in endless backslapping banality.

    More fun too :D

    So, let’s hear it for the jerks!

    p.s. you need a subscribe-to-comments plugin

  2. Hi Peter

    As we have never met hopefully this comment will not be too coloured by your perceptions of me :-)

    I entirely agree with your premise that we should be putting things on-line which are thoughts in progress rather than “finished articles”. The purpose of blogging, to me, is to interact with others and therefore develop my own ideas.

    Just had a thought that this might be too bland so I might also want to caution against being too robust as I think this can really put off those of use who are not members of the inner clique and are new to blogging.

  3. Rowland,
    You read like a good guy to me ;-) You are absolutely right though – nobody wants to discourage people from blogging. Indeed folks new to blogs with fresh ideas and perspectives are the very antidote to the inner blogging cliques and echo chambers.
    Anyway looking at the good quality of your blog, you look like you can look after yourself ;-)

  4. James – thanks for the tip about the subscribe-to-comments plugin!

    ‘endless backslapping banality’ – I’m putting this in my ideas for poetry bank!

  5. Pingback: Smelly Knowledge » On the Nature of Criticism

  6. Hi Peter,

    I hope that you are well.

    We met briefly at John Sutton’s Spring ICT conference, I helped John to market the event.

    My reason for contacting you is to enquire whether you might be willing to appear at a similar event in November?

    The Head of ICT at Wigan and Leigh College was in the audience at the spring event and was impressed by your presentation, he has now asked me if I will contact you to see whether you would be prepared to make a similar presentation to an audience of 100 teachers from Wigan and Leigh LEA.

    If you are interested perhaps you could give me a call on 0161 272 5500 to discuss the conference agenda,date and location of the event etc.

    Kindest Regards,

    Paul O’Carroll
    Managing Director
    Fingershield UK Ltd.

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