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Grounding

Life on the ‘net is a new world full of  promise to increase the connection between people, create new business opportunities, and develop new ideas.  Who can possibly argue with that?  I won’t.  But as I discuss what this means, online and off, I’ve come to realize that there is often a disconnect between how things are done in real life (IRL) and in this new world that exists in the ether around us.

Bridging that gap is an opportunity to make the online world more relevant – and make a decent living, if I can figure it out.  The problem is not an academic one at all.  Yet I can’t help but think that the solution can be found in how it is all grounded.  For all this new stuff the people who use it are still people.  It takes me back to the beginnings of academia itself, or how the Western world came to be what it is.

Asking the question, “What is Community?” highlights this disconnection.  There are many answers to this question and I think we pulled out a thoughtful and deep conversation on the topic.  I asked this question because I have been working on using social media tools not to define a new community from scratch but to reinforce an existing real world community.  The goal is to improve the diversity and openness of the real community, which means that the strategy that has to be employed is very different.

It takes me back to one of my favorite terms to pick on, which is “crowdsourcing”.  When confronted with new problems and opportunities there is nothing like getting everyone who has some stake in the problem into one room and laying it all out.  Call it Strategic Planning if you prefer, or collaborative problem solving.  Another excellent word is “School”.

"The School of Athens" by Rafael

The techniques for arriving at truth and plans through discussion were first laid out some 2,500 years ago by Socrates in what we can call “Socratic Dialogue” and, at times, the “Socratic Method”.  Basically, the wise men of Athens sat around the marketplace gabbing all day and developed some formal methods of organizing the chatter to make it more productive.

They called it a “School”, loosely, and the methods they employed were first picked up for the instruction of young people in the great knowledge of the day – through critical thinking, not as the distribution of facts.  Each subsequent generation answered the questions in their own way and arrived at their own idea of the truth.

The painting above, “The School of Athens,” is a 500 year old vision of this by Rafael.  It is one of the great treasures of the Vatican. Note that at the bottom there is a figure known to be Rafael himself, inserted into the process of teaching and problem solving through dialogue and critical thinking.  Interest in ancient Athenian ways rises and falls through the centuries as new cultures discover the ancient ways – and perhaps trigger a Renaissance of their own.

Using the word “school” to describe the connections made through social media may sit poorly.  After all, isn’t “school” a place where knowledge is crammed into us in a stiff and formal way by experts who have facts to dispense?  The short answer to this is “No,” but the long answer is “No, no, nononono!” with wild eyes and hands waving.  Rather than craft new and kewl words and pretend that we’re all re-inventing the wheel, wouldn’t it be better to reclaim the small words of our lives and thus reclaim a lost heritage?

One simple word used sideways to popular meaning can absorb rich textures in ways that a new word cannot. It’s the difference between prose and poetry when done with care.

New tools of social media are more than their own world – they are our world.  They have to ultimately be in service to “real life” if they are going to live up to the promise of changing everything.  That means a careful eye on what we are all trying to accomplish and what opportunities are created.  Grounding in what is already known or has been a part of our culture, at least through centuries-long waves, is one element that is often missing.

Does that mean we all have to study Socrates and his writings?  It wouldn’t hurt, but I doubt it’s essential.  It does mean that we have to keep our eyes open and watch when diverse opinions are lost in the rush to define a new world apart from “real life”.  It is, after all, the connections that ultimately matter.  Some of those connections run through time as well as the hearts and minds of people.

Is your experience online different from IRL?  Does that matter to you?  Does it seem relevant that much of this was thunk out 2,500 years ago?

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18 thoughts on “Grounding

  1. While I don’t like when you go on about social media, which I think is over rated, I see your point here. Your going back and forth between academic and real world arguments though and trying to make a connection that is hard to make. I will think about it.

    But I’d still like it if you got back to the economy. There is a lot more to be said there.

  2. Call it a bad habit, Jim? 🙂 You know I’m always trying to make connections between things – and that might not always work at first. It’s hard to do this in 800 words or less (even with such an excellent picture as a prop!). I know this is a hard argument and it will be very unpopular one way or another. But I think it’s very real.

    There just isn’t a Renaissance without grounding in fundamentals. That was true in the Arab world 1000 years ago and in Europe 500 years ago. Our Founding Fathers here in the USofA were very well grounded in this stuff, too, and it really shows. Call me a hardcore conservative (small “c”) but I agree that some of this new stuff is grossly over-rated – but still very useful, all the same if we look at it right.

  3. Hmmmm….too many so-called social media gurus spend too much time telling and not enough listening, methinks.

  4. Anna: I know, it’s an uphill battle. Someone has to bring this stuff up, and it might as well be li’l ol’ me.

    Jack: Yes, that is really the problem. And those who talk the loudest seem to have the most authority in this field (and many others, but I digress). That means that nonsense is repeated constantly. I can see it sometimes in the responses that I get in various media – you didn’t even read what I wrote! is what I want to say. But I try to smile and be polite and just … move on. It’s funny, in a way, even when it’s really rather sad.

    Don’t worry, eveyone – in time, I’m sure it’ll all even out. That’s one of the big problems with so much newness, IMHO! 🙂

  5. ‘Social media’ is pretty much all BS. You talk about grounding like it has any connection to reality at all but it doesn’t.

  6. Okay…I am awake now. Refreshing to read something of an intellectual writing after browsing so many blogs that equate with television, media of ignorance, and all the “unreality shows” going these days; so you know where I am likely to go as far as discussing social media and even ‘schooling.’ History aside, school is mostly about suiting individuals to a lifestyle behavior that is acceptable in present social parameters. Myself as a teenager I had to opt for an ‘alternative’ schooling as I was educated by my parents to become ‘self educated’ Later I discovered that at least at University level and on one could actually talk and discuss ideas that are supported intelligently-logically. Yes I also agree with the comment above that ‘any Renaissance is always grounded in fundamentals.’ I will check out your site in future. I must say as was hinted on in an earlier comment that you have opened up a vast area of potential discussions and attempted to ‘link or connect’ them in some fashion —whew! What a task! —conceptual thinking, but alas Mankind is a rational being whose evolution hinges on how much we are willing to respect the thought process. Even when ‘unthinking’ our ability to attempt that kind of ‘ideal’ requires THOUGHT.

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