More revolution, less retrospection – from the conference floor

Multi-coloured diagram setting our literacies, etc covered by Howard Rheingold in "Net Smart"I got the impression from some people attending the Connecting Up New Zealand conference last week that they wished the genie would quietly slip back into the bottle.

The torrent of opportunities and demands unleashed through the web is just too much. Could we just return to the uncomplicated days pre-Facebook, pre-twitter, pre-everything web!

This attitude was most evident in a keynote address by fundraiser and management consultant Kitty Hilton. Enumerating the many sins of an always-on, always connected world, Kitty emphasised the many bugbears she has with new-fangled technology (sigh).

Truthfully, deep down, I am not surprised by such views. Yet I still feel dismayed when I hear them. Here I am, listening to a bunch of prejudices at a supposedly forward-looking community technology conference.

The murmurs of agreement at Kitty’s outpouring suggested not everyone is taking the disruptive nature of the web in their stride. Admittedly it takes a fair bit of effort to get your head around the changes being wrought by an increasingly networked world.

Since I got home I’ve been thinking and talking about what will help people to grapple with the transformation going on screens around us. I’d suggest stepping back from the ever expanding flood of tools and the early adopter success stories to consider the underlying dynamics.

I’d probably skirt around to the classics, such as the “The Cluetrain Manifesto”, “Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything” or Clay Shirky’s “Here comes everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations”.

Instead I’d jump straight into “The Networked Nonprofit” by Beth Kanter and Alison Fine (see my review from December 2010). It’s a helicopter view of the social media enabled, hyper networked society for good causes, with the configuration of tools left to others. Some two years after its release, Beth continues to share the concepts in the book around the globe, most recently in Pakistan.

As well as an understanding of the web world, Beth’s work supposes a set of literacies for getting by online. Without them the internet sweeps people away, time and time again, as if relentlessly dumped by breakers pounding into St Kilda beach. Rather than being knocked over by the incoming tide, we need to develop skills and knowledge to stand firmly.

A starting point for understanding the literacies required to thrive online is neatly provided by online denizen Howard Rheingold. The insights from this 64 year old virtual community pioneer are more than enough to start with.

Captured within the 272 pages of “Net Smart”, released March 2012, is a set of interlaced literacies we need to hone. These are: infotention/ attention; crap detection (after Ernest Hemingway); participation; collaboration; and network awareness.

I’m finding even a jaundiced long-time internet addict such as me can learn from Rheingold’s approach. Of course, you don’t necessarily need the book, which I’m reading on my Kindle, as you can go online to find a tonne of stuff from Mr Rheingold, including articles, videos and even course curriculum.

It’s taken a few good sleeps and being back at my desk to put two and two together. Pondering out loud, I wonder if people could gain more control of their organisation’s online presence by understanding the networked environment social media operates in, along with the practical literacies needed to thrive.

I’ve already dabbled a toe in this pond. Last April I ran a workshop that touched on some of the material Rheingold so adroitly outlines (see the notes from my Harvesting information online workshop).

The next time I meet on the topic of community and ICT, I’m hoping we’re not dragged into wondering if a free and untamed web is a good thing. I’m much more excited by the idea of discussing topics raised by reporters such Wael Ghonim in “Revolution 2.0” who believe that the power of the people is greater than the people in power. Lets shift the focus forward, and ride along the wave of this ever so unruly medium.