I had a side conversation just now about some technical glitches related to #PLENK2010 (the online course about personal learning environments). Well, I think I did — it was via Facebook message, but I don’t see evidence of that in the ad-crammed junk drawer of Facebook’s interface.
No matter. I found myself thinking of this exchange (and similar ones with other people) in terms of how you connect in general with people you don’t know.
It might be related in some way to the riddle of online resonance that Jenny Mackness and Matthias Melcher wrote about: in this virtual / at-a-distance context, they’re asking how what can cause the initial resonance that can nudge a potential connection along till it becomes an actual one.
In my own case, what I saw myself doing was delivering potentially frustrating feedback (“your X isn’t working” can often imply “and it ought to, buddy”). And I felt slightly ill at ease about that.
I’m usually sane enough to believe that people like the PLENK facilitators welcome comments meant to improve or enrich the experience. At the same time, I hate to seem querulous, let alone the online equivalent of a grammar fascist. (Trust me, I can be querulous. I just tend to dress it up with over-the-top humor.)
Which gets to the persona part, the image I’d like people to have of me (probably a lot like the image I’d like to have of me). In an early post here, I wrote that persona was the mask used by Greek and Roman actors, and that another meaning for “actor” is agent–the person causing something to happen.
So as I start doing things in a new community like PLENK, I’m scattering bits of evidence from which people will form impressions. I can’t control what those will be, but I can try to influence that a bit.
Early in the game, then, I take out “connection insurance”:
- I tend to send feedback privately rather than publicly–in part because of my own self-consciousness, and in part because I might be incorrect.
- I try to include useful, factual detail: the URL I have in mind, an exact title, a copied string of text.
- I try to signal that I’m in a collaborative, non-confrontational frame of mind.
About confrontation: I know that some people see heated discussion as a sign of interest, and maybe even respect: I wouldn’t be arguing with you if I didn’t think you were worth the argument.
Notice that arrow across the top. In terms of early connections, I see an analogy, a continuum from”folks you just met” (the right-hand side) through “people you know well and who know you well” (over on the left).
The way you move a from right to left–the way the “connection neurons” get all Hebbsian–is through a series of interactions over time. You take extra care initially to signal intent. People on the other side of the relationship will take that in, along with other signals.
In other words, if you’re polite in private messages but seem like a cranky, dismissive, and apostrophe-challenged troll on your blog, that politeness will only carry you so far.
When you have enough public personas, people can form a pattern from them. Might be the one you’d form, might not.
CC-licensed resonance image by gillicious.