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So in the previous post I went on (and on) about relationships online and off-. The next point is that we seem to have grown up with a prejudice that online relationships are “not as real” or “not as good” as those we create offline.
While I am prone to this myself, when I think about it, it turns out to be piffle – people are people and the way we relate to each other doesn’t deteriorate as a matter of course just because we do it online. Some people behave very badly to others online, in ways that they wouldn’t dream of doing “IRL” but I’d argue that most of us now have more than one solely online relationship which is every bit as good as some of those that we have with people we see every day. And what is interesting, and I’ve noted before, is that online activities enhance relationships that began offline and vice versa. The distinction is disappearing, but I think that while things are still blurry, at this stage of our learning about relationships mediated by technology it’s a good time to look at some of the dynamics of how we get things done in this environment.
As well as Online/Offline, there are two other dimensions that I think are important to look at. These are the Formal/Informal and Group/Personal axes. We’re more used, I suppose, to thinking about the informal/formal axis in the context of the group, but I see both in my personal, individual life too (though there it can be easier to think about it as what’s conscious and unconscious). I don’t like gratuitous use of 2×2 matrices any more than the rest of you, so I hope you’ll forgive me, but I think it’s worth thinking about this space.
One of the first things I notice when thinking about this is that on the one hand social software is bringing more of a focus on the informal lives of groups (organisations, businesses if you like) while it brings a kind of formality at the individual level, by simply codifying our relationships, making things explicit that before were just understood – turning huge chunks of our personal lives into data (which by the way still doesn’t seem to belong to us – but that’s a whole other VRM kettle of fish – and I’m glad brains like Doc’s and Adriana’s are working on it).
However, that’s just another diversion from the story. Phew. The real point is what we can see when we extend the 2×2 to a 2x2x2 (cue: strangers in the night) with online/offline as the third axis.
In a purely offline world, think about how new stuff happens. I have an idea one morning, maybe in the shower, it percolates up out of my unconscious in a formal-ish way, maybe I write something down but perhaps I just take it in my head to work. Around the coffee pot, or the water cooler, I have a conversation with people and mention my idea. “OMG,” somebody says, “that is awesome, I’ve been thinking about just the same thing” – (OK, so this doesn’t *always* happen, often people have more interesting things to talk about, like their cat’s arse) “and what we could also do is X, Y and Z”. “OK,” I say, “let’s get together later and talk it through” So we do, and we work it out and we come up with a really cool way of expressing it and it gets adopted as part of the way we do things around here (or a ‘pro-see-dure’ if you are a dork).
In the purely online world, there’s a similar process. “Ping! Idea!” (personal/informal) write on blog (personal/formal-ish), a few people comment, create a google group or suchlike, knock up prototype, show it to friends (group/informal), come up with neat way of inviting new people in – bang – it’s an every day part of the web that we suddenly can’t do without (group/formal).
When the online/offline distinction gets blurry, the group/informal space is the interesting one, but unless we work for YaGoogleSoft, or are willing to sell our souls to Starbucks, we don’t have a wifi-enabled space to meet and chat around the coffee machine, dropping our little ideas into the conversation and seeing where they might end up. So the Tuttle Club idea is to create a physical space for the rest of us to play around with the offline counterpart to the read/write web and online social networking and to see what happens when (at least in this city) we have somewhere to facilitate that online/offline bootstrapping for a whole group of people who have little in common yet except that they’ve seen the social media light (and that, if we’re lucky, will be tomorrow’s story).