New Social Media: From technologies to spaces we make for virtual and face-to-face interactions

Although my initial post in this series suggested we think less about the technological side of New Social Media and more about the kinds of interactions we want to cultivate, the first consideration when using internet technologies should be maintenance of the infrastructure.  Many new websites, blogs, and twitter accounts begin with a splash only to be left untended, becoming like the fraying fliers we see stapled to telephone poles or noticeboards—at least, when we bother to look.  Just as it takes time and systematic effort to remove out-of-date fliers, it takes time and discipline to keep an internet presence alive and worth anyone else visiting.  If we find we don’t have that time and discipline, we should scale back or disband our internet presence.

Maintenance of infrastructure can, however, be seen as more than necessary housekeeping.  It’s an opportunity to model some principles about serving others while keeping in mind the possibility that others will adopt and adapt those principles in their own virtual and physical interactions.  (The ideal of cultivating apprentices informs this view.)  Principles or qualities that I have advocated elsewhere relate to planning, community-building, probing, transparency and inclusiveness of consultation, documenting process, organization, taking care for colleagues’ reputations, and equity in relation to explicit guidelines.  (See also e-etiquette and collegial interactions.)

The second consideration for use of internet technologies and new social media might, at first, sound selfish: Does my presence support my movement along the 4Rs sequence?  Does it enhance or restore my engagement in work and life through experiences of new insights—revelations—that arise after moving onto unfamiliar ground—taking of risks—which is more likely when I have a sense of respect from the audience that I envisage when I write?  In looking for 4Rs for myself, my presence does not have to be based on direct reciprocity.  That is, I think I don’t have to spend as much time reading the blogs of others as I hope others spend reading mine .  It’s enough that I model to others—and here’s the apprenticeship ideal again—that each of us can hold out for the 4Rs as an alternative to busy-ness filled with urgent but not necessarily important matters—busyness that does little to assure and affirm respect among participants.

Of course, I do also aspire to support the 4Rs for others, but I think that this is more likely to happen in smaller, more exclusive spaces, where interactions are sustained long enough for participants to listen well and build the respect for each other’s multi-faceted being-in-the-world.  From that position, risks, revelation, and re-engagement can follow.  Such smaller spaces may or may not be virtual.

This last point takes us back to my initial confusion about why I even seek interactions through a virtual presence.  This question is picked up again in the next post.


About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor teaches and directs programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He studies the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context as well as innovation in teaching, group process, and interdisciplinary collaboration (see He is especially interested in conversations with others who are, in diverse ways, "troubled by heterogeneity" (

One Response to New Social Media: From technologies to spaces we make for virtual and face-to-face interactions

  1. Pingback: New Social Media: From technologies to spaces for virtual and face-to-face interactions II « Probe—Create Change—Reflect

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