Friday, April 30, 2010

In response to: Why “Talk” Culture Ruins Everything

I was reading Why “Talk” Culture Ruins Everything by Hugh McGuire this morning. And the scary part of "cherry picking" ideas and creating mash-ups from these were driven home once again.

We do it all the time...in casual conversations, on social networking sites, during water cooler gossips, in one-on-one conversations with friends...We de-contextualize snippets of conversations, texts, dialogues heard, reassemble the various bits and pieces, add our thoughts and pass on the new "mash-up" till it has lost all resemblance to the source.
We are wired to share our thoughts. It's almost impossible for a human being to not talk, not converse, not share. We are also wired to listen to and pick up those bits and pieces that are in synch with our ideas. We suffer from Homophily . Hence, we hear what we want to hear. There's no greater truth than that.

Take me for example: I can hang around with friends w/o speaking a word and just listening to their banters. Most of it does not register. I tend to be lost in my own dreamworld. But should anyone mention any of the following words in the course of their conversation, I am completely on my "mental toes". Words that can jolt me out of my dreamstate are typically social media, training, books, collaboration, instructional design, marketing, movies, Pink Floyd, Phil Collins, Jazz, Elvis, etc. My take away from the entire conversation will be purely mine--nothing to do with the conversation in its entirety.

And not being so egoistic as to think of myself as unique, I know this is a normal phenomenon. Unless we are attending official meetings that are followed by documented minutes, we hear only what we want to hear. Hence, there is never an absolute, single truth for all. Our takeaways depend on our worldviews, our social context, our gender, age, and all the rest that we lump under the term demographics. A popular word with designers of learning solutions. Our demographics drive and filter what we perceive as the truth. And from this emerges our personal mash-ups of all we see, hear, read, feel, experience…

There are two sides to this:
1. We hear, read, see and assimilate all of that such that it becomes a part of our own internal knowledge schema. It is then ours and no longer mash-ups.
2. The dangerous bit is when we cherry pick and create mash-ups without the assimilation process, and pass on that patchwork of information with citation.

I have seen such conversation mash-ups create endless mis-communication, misunderstanding, mis-representation and mis-interpretation.

And Hugh McGuire puts it brilliantly when he writes:

"It always surprises me that there aren’t more articles about the dangers of one-on-one conversations: after all – shouldn’t we be worried about, “the fragmentation of data that the conversations produce, as news articles, novels and record albums are broken down into verbal words and sentences shared between people at cafes everywhere; the growing emphasis on immediacy and real-time responses of the person in front of you; the rising tide of data and information that permeates our discussions; and the emphasis that conversation places on subjectivity."

And such dangers are on the rise with the Social Networking sites permeating the very fabric of our lives. It has become so very easy to pick a line from here, a sentence from there, a tweet from people I follow, throw in a link from a blog, and my case is made. Each of the instances stand de-contextualized, maybe even mis-represented, but there is no stopping this phenomenon any more. The deluge has already started and the world has become one vast water cooler.

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