Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The dark side of online interaction

Articles about social media often emphasize the benefits: we can now start our own movement around something that concerns us (in seven easy steps!), without costs talking with people all over the world (via skype), or become famous via youtube (like Esmee Denters). I am excited about the new possibilities too and would not like to return to the days before social media.

However, you must not be blind to the drawbacks and the dark side of social media. Think of cyberbullying, and hate groups. Or privacy issues. Burglars read along on twitter if you're on vacation. The speed with which information is circulated on the Internet through blogs and twitter leads to hyping and creates room for manipulation. Journalist Nicole Carlier described in the dutch article "Knetter van twitter" how hard it can be to come loose from a relationship when you meet your ex constantly online.

When we talk about online facilitation of collaborative processes and online sharing of experiences, there are definitely dark sides. Here are some of the dark side that I have observed in online programs:

* Technology stress. Youth (the netgeneration) are generally quick and find it easy to pick up how to work with new online tools. For others, this can still pose a considerable stress and make them feel uncertain. You know how you come across in meetings and how to lead a meeting, then a part of the exchange is done online and you're the person who does not know how to do this ...
* Chaos and lack of overview. Online communication has been compared by a colleague with a "cauliflower". Face-to-face communication can be chaotic too but communication is time-bound and often lead by a chairman or facilitator who summarizes and guides the flow. Online; space is unlimited and discussions can go in any possible way. For people who like to have structure this must surely be a crime ... This is obviously even worse when several online tools are used. Decision-making and divergence is therefore often difficult.
* Continuous flow of information leading to the it-never-ends feeling. Book a meeting in your calendar and it is clear and time-limited. Online exchange goes on continually, and with a great intensity. It does not stop while you do want to know everything going on .. This can be a very unsatisfactory feeling. Have you read it all? Shouldn't you read more blogs as others do? This ofcourse leads to stress. The boundaries between private and work time are blurring (which is an advantage to me personally but is not universally perceived as an advantage...).

Occasionally you might also just choose not to encourage online interaction ... when to avoid online interaction? when to embrace?

(Photo by http://youngmarketing.web-log.nl/youngmarketing/2010/04/het-internet-he.html)
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