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

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 (continuing here from the previous post).  The workshop spirit can inform these consultations if there is an expectation of circumscribed mutuality, for example, within pre-established limits, say, 20 minute sessions, anyone can request a consultation with anyone else and set the topic and goals.  Often less experienced participants can be surprised by how useful their attention or advice is when more experienced “senior” participants request their time. Skype can allow voice and video consultations that are like face-to-face consultations.  Email is another obvious form of virtual one-on-one consultation, but established limits are needed to such distinguish emails from among the flood of different kinds of messages in overflowing inboxes.

Finally, in Felicia Sullivan’s schema, there are Offices.  Our physical Offices are now also virtual as well, involving numerous forays out into online worlds—from to-do lists kept on a wiki to research interviews conducted by and recorded on skype.  Indeed, to secure an individual workspace it may be necessary to move away from the computer and set up a physical space, free of online distractions, to think and write.

Taken as a whole, the four virtual spaces in the schema are not so different in function and design requirements from their physical analogs—libraries, coffee houses, workshops (conference rooms), and offices.  Even the criterion of infrastructure maintenance, which I emphasized for virtual spaces, applies to physical spaces.  Moreover, the apprenticeship and 4Rs principles apply to virtual interactions as much as ones in the physical world.  The preparation needed to make face-to-face workshops work, e.g., allow enough time for the 4Rs to develop (including quiet spaces not filled up and this free for reflection), apply also to virtual workshops.

An additional principle comes into play in virtual spaces: Use them (or computer tools in general) when they enable you to do something not easily done by regular means.  What might those things be?

1)    Interaction during periods in between physical workshops by people who live at a distance from each other.  (Why is this sustained, as against episodic interaction valuable?  Perhaps because it is unavailable locally, but that would need to be explored not assumed.  More to the point, the apprenticeship/4Rs model suggest that sustained interaction serves to boost workshop participants’ motivation to connect locally, as well as allowing space to take stock of those efforts.  [Admittedly, such reflection could also be done locally.])

2)    Coordination among many users of facilities and equipment who do not desire to attend regular meetings.  (A generalization of this is to self-organize, but this begs the question about when internet-mediate self-organization does something better than physical person-to-person self-organization.)

This series of posts has helped further my thinking but by no means fully resolved the confusions about my online presence, the starting point of the posts.  A workshop—face to face—was hatched out of initial discussions—face to face—about this issues.  Let’s see what emerges there.


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,

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