Call me contrary…

Hey, a girls entitled to change her mind…

Earlier, I talked about why Larry Ferlazzo got it right when he said face to face relationships have a quality that can’t be replicated online. Now, I’ll bring some thoughts up to the contrary.

Here are some caveats to that point…Larry himself, has already had to eat his words (okay it wasn’t that extreme) when he said he didn’t get Second Life as an education platform, and then had a reader point out how great it was for people with disabilities. This is a significant population that is often ill-served by our current education and social institutions and the online community has been a welcome advent for many (although many participate in “regular” schools and society too, thank you very much).

I started thinking about non-face to face relationships in the past. Yes, these did exist in the days before computers. First, pen pals and correspondence relationships go back far in time. This was illustrated nicely in the fictional account 84 Charing Cross Road. And as for organizing, look at how well Paul did with a few letters in organizing the early Christian church! Okay, I overstate a bit, but this is part of an ongoing process of using communication to reach out to others. In pencil and paper days, we have pen pals and other correspondence relationships. Party lines (the larger modern ones, not the old ones that just had your neighbors) showed people were dying to talk to complete strangers. CB radio (and its more technical precursor the HAM) had strangers talking to each other and becoming acquaintances and sometimes friends.

The written relationships were the most widespread. I imagine that blogging, et. al. will be bigger than pen pals were because of the ease of entry. Whether it takes the place of face to face, or is a significant part of most adults’ social life I wouldn’t want to venture a guess.

There is one area where the relationships will be at a whole variety of different levels of physical distance and that will be in work, and being able to flexibly adapt to working with a variety of people who are in a variety of different countries will be a skill needed for a larger and larger number of workers. My example of this is my brother in law who works with a team literally on different continents. They trade off conference call times because there is no time that works for everyone. By moving it around, they all feel the pain sometime. They use IM chat, email, and teleconferencing extensively. This is not an intimate relationship, but there I think back, and my face to face relationships with my co-workers aren’t that intimate either. I mean I like them, and I respect them, and we work well together, but would my relationships be any “cooler” if I only meet them over a conference call? I don’t know.

The professional relationships I’ve built up online over the last year have been invaluable to me because there are so few doing what I do where I am. It’s also nice being able to see Larry. I loved meeting with Brian, and I look forward to meeting Glenn someday. There are some things about my relationship with Larry that are closer than say, with Brian. We have the shared experience of working for the same district. In some ways though, I have feel closer to other bloggers because they aren’t in my backyard. My working in the same “place” makes me cautious so as not to piss in my pond so to speak. This may be healthier for that relationship in the long run. Who knows?

I think it’s hard to see the future. It’s easy to overstate “change” but I sense things are changing and have been for a time now.

6 thoughts on “Call me contrary…

  1. Alice,

    First, I appreciate your pointing out my Second Life faux pas so eloquently to a whole new group of readers :).

    I do agree that there’s a certain amount of ambiguity in all this, though I would say that one of the key reasons for Paul’s success was that his letters built on the face-to-face relationships he developed through his constant traveling. During my community organizing career we considered him a model for our work.

    Thanks for continuing the discussion, and for making me think more and deeper about this issue.


  2. Larry, I love how you thank people for deepening your thinking when you don’t change your mind ;-). Glad I could share your embarrassment with everyone here! What are friends for?

    Seriously, I was thinking about when are relationships online vs. when they are face-to-face at their core. I wanted to clarify something you talked about. You discuss how online relationships can be used to deepen face-to-face relationships. My brother-in-law does occasionally meet with co-workers (once a year or so), but that doesn’t seem often enough to sustain a relationship to me, so I think that is largely an “online” relationship. How often do people have to see each other to maintain a face-to-face relationship. How little before the relationship is essentially an online one?

    Just trying to stretch your mind…

  3. Alice,

    Good question. I’m sure there’s not a formula, but I know, for me, after I’ve have had a number of face-to-face interactions with a person that has included times of stress and risk, over a period of months (at least) I probably feel that I’ve got a bona fide relationship that can be deepened (even over long distances and over long periods of time) by phone, letter, or online communication.


  4. Alice – If things work out I’m supposed to be getting a wireless card for my laptop that will allow me to be online anywhere I can get cell phone access. I have only barely begun to imagine all the applications this connectivity will afford me. However, one idea struck me right away.

    Lake Tahoe is less than a 45 minute bus ride away. One field trip opportunity available there is to go out on a small ship crammed with scientific instruments and have your students do various experiments and collect various data about water quality at various depths, what kinds of life, besides fish, live in the water, etc.

    Now imagine hooking up over Skype or Ustream or Elluminate from my laptop and sharing that trip with a classroom or classrooms anywhere in the world. Not just watching, but asking questions in real time, possibly doing the same experiments in their classroom and on and on.

    Would being there be better … well of course … but we’re talking about an experience probably not attainable by most of the people sharing over the internet.

    Let’s see … students in Florida could share rocket launches or a trip to the Everglades … students in Australia could share … you get the idea.

  5. Ya know Larry, I’m thinking about it, and you look at it as online activities supporting face-to-face relationships, but…I think back on some of my online relationships, and it was like meeting folks occasionally in person seemed to support the online relationship, not the other way around. The problems and crises shared were usually shared online, whereas the in person meetings were in calmer times. I think there are different perspectives on these relationships.

  6. Hey Alice, Brian and Larry,

    Great conversation strand going here, for sure! I’m enjoying wrestling with the proper balance between online and face to face experiences in one’s life…and the kinds of relationships that are considered “real.”

    Together, we’re all collaborating around a central idea, aren’t we? From different locations, we’re challenging, shaping, inventing and creating new thought.

    And (most of us) have never met. We know each other only through our words.

    Does our impact on one another mean anything less because of that? If I can somehow prompt thinking in you and you can do the same in me—-and Brian (who I only know because of his K12 Online presentation) can shape how I feel about topics, isn’t that pretty darn powerful?

    Now this may sound a bit weird, but I feel like I have a relationship with you to some degree. We’ve “broken digital bread” together.

    As Alice mentioned in her comments, meeting you would enhance that relationship, but not meeting you doesn’t mean I appreciate your contribution to my own mental growth any less.

    I wonder if certain people are “drawn to” digital relationships more than others. Are there a set of personality traits that go along with those who are comfortable interacting online versus those who need a tangible relationship to feel complete?

    If so, what are those traits—-and will they determine who is most successful in the work world of tomorrow?

    Interesting questions….great conversation!


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