Friday, September 25, 2009

Building Online Community

I've been thinking a lot about the new world of technology and how my message can best engage the new media. Not only that, but also how the message itself becomes shaped by the system of delivery. I believe it's important that my writing maintain its integrity - but at the same time I understand that communication must be pliable, flexible, malleable, if it is to be at all effective in real time.

Of course the very fact that people are reading this blog speaks to the cogency of the topic. My commitment to post blog entries six days every week is not only a consequence of this technology (and the "24-hour news cycle") but it - in effect - becomes a contributing factor to the credibility of this mode of communication. Participation is - in a large sense - sanction.

My message itself is becoming shaped by the fact that I do not have a few days, a week, or a month, to carefully craft my post - and, at the same time, the authenticity of what I have to share is necessarily improved by the very immediacy that makes it difficult to produce.

- Posting on this blog is not the same as writing a chapter for a book. But, rather than trying to force blog readers to digest book-segments in this context, it's incumbent on me to meet visitors here and share good news with them in the language of this venue. It's another way to follow Jesus in terms of "Be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

This is - in a very real sense - the ends of the earth.

Meanwhile, I'm in the process of taking my first "on-line" class. I'm participating in a workshop offered by the Institute for Discipleship (IFD), through , a learning extension program housed on the campus of Southwestern College in Kentucky. When I have completed my class, I'll be certified to teach on-line through the IFD.

A lot of our conversation (there are 14 of us taking the class) these first few days has been about how to build community in a virtual environment. Community requires interaction... but the on-line model deprives us of many of the cues involved in human contact. Handshakes, eye-brow raising, hugs, posture, proximity, looking people in the eye - or not, frowns, the way we are dressed... just a few of the elements that contribute to communication.

But, at the same time, barriers are removed. People tend to be less shy, more willing to speak their minds, more comfortable with their viewpoint. Some of the barriers - of course - are for our own protection and the protection of others. Being less circumspect is not necessarily a helpful factor when building community; holding back can actually promote dialog; catching someone's eye mid-sentence - when they're stepping all over someone else's toes - can serve to promote unity....

So a lot of new skill sets must be developed by those of us who moderate (or facilitate) on-line community....

Obviously there's a lot to talk about, not only in my class but here in this particular venue. I'm open - as always - for feedback. I know some of my facebook friends will jump on board this discussion the moment this is posted. I'd love to hear from you.

Most of all I want to be able to utilize emerging media to communiccate what I know to be true and healing and hopeful and encouraging and challenging and life-changing about the Gospel.

As always, I'll keep you posted. Peace - DEREK

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