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

In this post, I explore Felicia Sullivan’s schema of kinds of online presence.  Her first space is the Library, which people visit to find reference and archival materials.  Archives in the physical world are most useful when they have finding aids; otherwise the visitor soon loses steam rifling through boxes of paper records.  The same tends to be true of virtual libraries, but search engines allow us to find items of interest without finding aids.  We visit libraries in the physical world to borrow books and photocopy journal articles or items in the archives, then take them back to the office to delve into on our own.  Virtual libraries simplify that process (although we often make print outs in this era of far-from-paperless offices and have trouble maintaining our systems for paper and electronic files).  In taking materials to our offices we tend to bypass the next the coffee house and workshop kinds of online spaces (although virtual bookclubs, such as, the Book Club of the Plexus Institute, make it possible for library materials to stimulate discussions in such spaces).

Coffee Houses in the physical world have regular and occasional visitors, and notice-boards to peruse when there is no conversation for you to join.  When we make time away from the library and our offices to visit a coffee house, we are opening ourselves to discussion and information that may show us new directions of thought and action, associations with others and possible collaboration.  For coffee houses to keep running, there needs to be a staff; these staff appreciate assistance from regular visitors in keeping the place tidy and in other tasks, such as removing out of date notices on the noticeboards.  This picture applies not only to a physical coffee house, but also to twitter, facebook, linkedin, and blogsthat allow comments.

Sometimes a smaller coffee house forms—let’s call it a salon—where participation is restricted to invited guests or applicants.   (Salons are not in the original schema.)   Participation in a salon is less casual and more structured in time and place, e.g., when academics join a thematic seminar for a semester, when people agree to twitter with a certain hashtag at a designated hour each week or join a monthly conference call on skype (using say the format described elsewhere).  One of my puzzles is how salons get spun off from coffee houses—perhaps the weekly twitter hour is not like a salon, but is simply a transitional space between coffee houses and workshops.

The Workshop (what Felicia calls a Conference Room) is a space for directed sustained collaboration, stimulated perhaps by interaction in a coffee house or salon, using materials from the library, and generating some product that may eventually be made visible to the wider world.  In my experience a push for product can squelch the processes through which collaborations gestate and become generative.  Thus the priority I give to the 4Rs for cultivating collaboration.  Indeed, I hold a workshop to be productive if people’s experience while working in it lead them to initiate—or, at least, participate more actively in—future workshops (in the sense of the schema of spaces under discussion here) with a different mix of participants.  (Useful tools for virtual workshops, or web-enhanced physical workshops, include, in my experience skype, googeldocs, nings, shared blogs, and wikis.)

Just as a salon is smaller, more exclusive form of a coffee house, a workshop may give rise to—or create a sub-space for—one-on-one consultations.  That thought is picked up in the next post, before moving to the last of the four spaces in the original schema, the Office.


About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor is a Professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston where he teaches and directs undergraduate and graduate programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society. His research and writing focuses on the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context, incl. Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (U. Chicago Press, 2005) and Nature-nurture? No (2014, On reflective practice, see Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research & Engagement (with J. Szteiter, 2012,

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

  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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