Sunday, May 15, 2005

Transparent Representation and Gentle Nudges

Mary Hodder wrote something that rang bells for me in the ongoing "conversation" about representation in blogging (women, men, people of color, nationality, expertise, etc.). I keep struggling to get away from the man/woman thing. I believe the point is that we need a higher level of self awareness and conciousness of our diverse world because the internet is, in a sense, making us bare it all. We are visible in unprecedented ways.

Mary wrote a reference about the make up of presenters PopTech in the perspective of how the organizers represented their event. She wrote in Napsterization:
"The point is, if you purport to represent the world, and cover the world, in your conference or discussion, then do it by including people who are beyond your demographic, and work that goes beyond your demographic (and there is lots of amazing work out there by folks who happen to have other perspectives), for projects and ideas covering other worlds than yours. This isn't about forcing a change, it's about being honest about what you're perspective is."
For me this applies not just to conferences, but any type of gathering. As a person who often convenes or facilitates online events, I know how easy it is to fall into the trap of representing more than you can actually represent. A gathering of members of a global organization in an online event will not usually be truely representative and the conclusions of that group cannot be represented as the organization's. A webcast with two or three experts will not be able to represent all the "latest thinking" on topic XYZ. Just the thinking of those three people and the people they might be able to represent. But somehow we start believing it is. We are selling ourselves down the road...

What is making this such a relevant but touchy issues these days?

Hype is part of the problem. We burned through the dotcom era with each idea purporting to be better than the one before it. Best, greatest solution... right here. We start to believe our spin a bit too much. Whomever is in the "in" group runs the risk of believing the hype.

Groupthink and a Global Society
Part of the problem is groupthink. Associating with those we know, trust and enjoy being with is common human behavior. But it has different implications in the internet connected world where our sometimes-provincial behaviors are transmitted instantly outside of the "province." Where we could once misstep, we can no longer without visibility and broader consequence. This is both heaven and hell. We get in trouble more often but the opportunity to learn and grow increases. Bottom line? We need to pay more attention to actively and effectively utilizing diversity because that's our world. New skills, my friends, new skills.

Self Awareness
When it is so easy to throw something out to the world (like in a blog), what are the consequences? What are the consequences of me writing this quickly without a lot of preparation? I can screw up. That's ok. What's not ok is not being able to find out when we screw up and change from it, not just move to a position of defense. We have the opportunity to be able, for a moment, to see or experience ourselves -- what we do and say -- through the eyes of someone else. And let it change us. What a gift. But it asks us to take time to first know ourselves. Is that in your busy schedule?

Transparent Representation
And finally, how do we take our self awareness and make it part of our daily experience as we open out to this crazy, global society? How do we represent ourselves transparently enough to invite another's view and to allow ourselves the possibility of being changed by that view? It means stepping outside of our confort zones, balancing our own view of the world with the views of others and changing the way we live and work. Fundamentally.

I heard some Armenian music yesterday and had this twinge. No, it was more than a twinge. It was a huge wave of gratitude to my friends in Armenia who let me step a little bit outside of my comfort zone. My friends in Azerbaijan and Georgia, Kenya, Ghana and South Africa. Brazil and Malaysia, China and Switzerland. They shifted my world, disrupted my assumptions and changed my life. It is only now that I am realizing the implications in my life, especially my online life. They give me courage to step outside of my comfort zone.

We can do this for each other online.

If you see me stepping back in, give me a gentle nudge.

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Blogger Dina Mehta said...

Nancy, thanks for sharing your thoughts around these issues. I was at PopTech last year, where the theme was The Next Rennaisance. I shared similar thoughts as I blogged from the conference here -

An excerpt from that post :
Some thoughts as an Indian in an audience that is primarily American - The theme of the conference is The Next Rennaissance and a lot of the presenters yesterday and this morning talked about developing countries and how the world order is changing - India is one of them. Naturally, from an American or first world perspective given the location of the conference and the composition of speakers and audience.

What bothers me a little is that presentations like the one on Bhutan earlier today only reinforce ''exotica'' - they in no way are telling us why and how these nations must be embraced as one world, how these nations have real people, real development, real innovations that might often surprise the first world. And that the first world could learn a lot by sharing. Alex Steffen touched upon some of these - but i havent seen enough of it yet, or any depth. And what about commitment ?

The sense i get from many of the speakers so far is the attempt to tell or 'warn' America to wake up to the potential and growth happening in these parts of the world. I just wish they had speakers from these nations who are actually affecting and changing the future in those parts of the world, through work they are doing.

I feel the audience here would benefit from hearing their stories, diving deeper into projects that are on, and then moving the conversations to how the first and third worlds can come together as one community to chart the course for the development of our world, which is indeed one world.

Apologies for the length of this comment .. but i just couldn't resist :)

9:09 PM  
Blogger Nancy White said...

Dina, I can't speak for all North Americans, but I think we have a lot to learn on how to do this. I know that I'm just starting to understand the need at more than an intellectual level. That by no means indicated I know how to do it yet. I think I'm not the only one!

The question is, how do we best learn to see from another perspective, be in man or woman, North American or Indian?

9:58 PM  
Blogger Nancy White said...

Ugh. Sorry for all the typos. Sunday evening posting... danger!

10:21 PM  
Blogger Dina Mehta said...

I really feel the first step is in acknowledging that 'they' (whoever they are) are a part of the same world we inhabit. That there is interdependence today, where each can learn from the other, where each needs the other. In such a manner that we balance the polarities - black and white, male-female, masculinity-feminity, first world-developing world, a-list---z-list, the yin and yang.

But this needs heart Nancy - at a rational level I think its something everyone knows is inevitable. Its about letting go of our fears and operating from love. How do we learn to do this? I'm not so sure movements like the Feminists will work today. They are so black and white, in your face. Balancing the polarities has many shades of grey (and other brilliant colours too).

Hmmm you make me think ... I guess one way is to share our stories. Embrace the diversity, play in the chaos, allow each seed to grow. And social technologies like blogs are making it so much easier for us to embrace these diversities and bridge our conversations.

10:44 PM  

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