Discovering the link between your internet connection and your emotional connection

Mead 2

I have a picture framing the famous Margaret Mead quote “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world . . . Indeed it’s the only thing that ever has” hanging in my apartment. This quote serves as a constant reminder of the influence each individual holds in shaping their environments. When we think of how movements have historically evolved over time, the enormous amount of energy dedicated to creating results is all too clear. Martin Luther King, being an obvious (and relevant) example, faced an undertaking that ultimately cost him his life. The process of collaboration and influence in our society can be extremely daunting as one contemplates the countless hierarchies, rules, resource planning, emotional energy and other implications that make action so difficult.  However, the first and foremost problem in inspiring action is finding the support, the first follower, the human support base, to even attempt to do so.

If you watch this video, you will see the transformation that takes place from one individual expressing himself (literally and physically) to recruiting his first follower to establishing a small social movement. What you will notice is that so much of this process is physical. It’s emotional. It spreads because of place and presence and face-to-face interaction. The leader and his followers have created an environment that is contagious, a space that is hard not to engage with.

It is fairly easy to identify the point in this video where this event almost instantly transforms from a couple of dance enthusiasts to a full out dance party (social movement).  Malcom Gladwell calls this the Tipping Point, or the critical turning point, “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point” wherein an idea, behavior, product or message effectively goes viral.  Gladwell even reiterates Mead’s message, “There are exceptional people out there who are capable of starting epidemics. All you have to do is find them.”

So how easy is it to find these exceptional individuals across technology channels? And furthermore . . . how do we begin to trust them without a shared physical space and face-to-face interaction to build off of?

At first, finding and connecting with people  across technology channels doesn’t seem to be so daunting. After all, we all have hundreds of Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook connections that we interact with almost daily. In addition, there are online communities of practice for just about every hobby or interest imaginable.  However, what leads to the identification of an “exceptional” leader and the dedicated support or buy in from others – and ultimately real time team collaboration?  John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid comment on the complexity of identity and recognition in social environments. “Learning, in all, involves acquiring identities that reflect both how a learner sees the world and how the world sees the learner.” In other words, you are only a leader if other people decide to recognize you as one.

So how does this process take place?  Where is the emotion? How do individuals establish interpersonal relationships of trust through a computer screen?

My Creating and Sharing Knowledge course this term tasks me with diving deep into a specific element of knowledge management of my choosing to explore and blog about in depth throughout the term (which I will be conducting here over the next couple of weeks).  My curiosity lies in this concept of buy-in, or what triggers individuals to first of all participate in foreign technological communities (Twitter chats, discussion forums, Personal Learning Networks, corporate intranets) and more importantly, what fosters individuals to act on these experiences to develop actual professional and personal relationships? Specifically:

  • What is the tipping point that drives not just participation but also ongoing collaboration?

  • Are there specific technological environments that foster increased engagement  between a small group of individuals who share a passion to take the leap towards real time collaboration in a start-up?

  • What transforms a divided corporate culture into one that reaches out through technology to connect, share best practices and knowledge and invest in fellow employees?

  • How do individuals develop trust over technological platforms?

  • What causes two people to fall in love over an exchange of written messages having never interacted face-to-face?

In effect, what factors lead to the humanization of these technology portals?  More to come!

11 thoughts on “Discovering the link between your internet connection and your emotional connection”

  1. I am so happy that we have such gifted writers and thinkers in our community. Great post – and welcome to the club of asking big, interesting, messy, questions. I know you will find a lot of company in working through yours.

    Starting with the human-ness angle — emotion, trust, relationships – is (my bias) the most intriguing way to enter into this exploration. Which is why I tend to read people like Luis Suarez. Check out this post:

    If you dig into his work, he goes back and forth between the human-ness bits and the tech bits to understand what it looks like when the combination is working well (the whole group is dancing). But he also very much continues to work on how to shape the environment to what it SHOULD be…not just what it can be. And behind the “should” is a lot of the same sentiment I pick up here, in your post. He’s not a utopian or naive cheerleader in doing this; he’s a thoughtful social tech practitioner working on the same big questions you are.

    There are several other people researching aspects of these questions. I’ll pull together some other links and share.

  2. Love your first post, Andee!! Your questions are incredibly deep and thoughtful, and I’ve often wondered a few of them myself (although those thoughts have not been as eloquently phrased ;)). Especially your last question, which I had a few weeks ago after watching You’ve Got Mail!

    In regards to your questions on trust and tipping points, I’ve felt my personal use of social networking/collaboration hitting those phases recently. In the last few weeks, I’ve started tweeting intensely and am now absolutely hooked. I’ve had a personal Twitter account for a long time, but never tweeted regularly before because I didn’t particularly feel comfortable, safe, or relevant when doing so. Like you noted, it is extremely daunting! However, the MSLOC Twitter community turned out to be my tipping point, and they inspired me to begin using the technology in new, collaborative ways. I think the community fosters immense trust through so many close, accessible people tweeting about the topics we geek out about, encouraging us to add our own voices, and constantly affirming and reassuring us through favoriting and retweeting our ideas. I can’t get enough!

    Thanks so much for such an inspiring post — can’t wait to continue reading throughout the quarter (and beyond)!

  3. Hi Andee – I loved your post (which I found via Jeff Merrell’s blog, so thanks Jeff!). What a wonderful outlook to have at the start of this interesting course. Thank you for sharing your learning ‘out loud’ and thus inviting me and others to join you in considering these big, messy questions, as Jeff describes them 🙂

    I also love that Margaret Mead quote! I’ve had it hanging in my kitchen (actually, several consecutive kitchens) for many years. I also use it in my teaching, in inviting undergraduate students (in #ct231) to develop digital media projects in an area of deep interest to them, but for someone outside the university (see Today, of course, this quote and your post evoke the wonderful Pete Seeger, RIP, another person who committed his life to improving the lives of others.

    I’m interested in your question about how relationships of trust develop in online communities, and across wider networks. I’m doing research on digital identity practices in open online learning spaces, and am considering some of the same questions. How do we construct, perform and negotiate our identities — social, pedagogical, professional, civic — in different open online spaces? And what is the relationship between our digital and embodied identities? It’s complicated and ever so fascinating! Look forward to connecting and learning with you.

    1. Hi Catherine,
      I’m extremely interested in following your insights as I dig deeper into these questions! I love how you are examining emotional and constructed identities across identity and forum and how exactly these identities interact with one another or remain distinct. Messy questions are always the most fun!

  4. Hi Andee – I was exploring some similar ideas and concepts as you regarding “tipping points”. I never really questioned the trust angle the way you have, though. I think part of the reason I didn’t hit on it is because my focus is on social learning in an organization, and I have to say that “trust” is a word we usually don’t discuss.

    But, when I saw your post it got me thinking that this idea of trust permeates not only public social networks like Twitter, but also internal ones. I’m looking at ways that corporate social sites are seeded, and think one of the challenges might be trust. How do people get social, even if it’s the business kind, in an organizational setting where managers are looking in?

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