Saturday, August 28, 2004

What Can You Know?

What Can You Know?

I've been looking at my own research data on internet use. It's surprising to see people who describe themselves as experienced users who only ever use the Yahoo search engine, and who get email almost entirely from people who they have personally met.

So I ask, how can any of us know if we are or we are not "experienced users". In reality we cannot know. All of us are in some ways "experienced" and in many ways "inexperienced".

All any of us know is what we happen to know today. Is what you know a little or a lot? Each of us as an individual is poorly placed to have any idea about that. We learn about our skills or lack of them during interaction with other people. But too many people are not engaged in that interaction.

We learn from other people. To do that online you need to join in activities which give us that opportunity to exchange views with lots of other people. Yes, people we don't personally "know". But people we can discover and learn about. Once the best way to do that was to participate in Usenet Forums or to join Listservers or a Yahoo Group. Today the best way to link with lots of other people is to join a social network.

In New Zealand at the moment the people in the dominant culture are complaining about the privileges given to the NZ Maori, the indigenous culture. It occurs to me that there is online a dominant culture which I've become part of. Other people may not feel so "at home" online. When you are new to the internet, you may feel that this is a foreign place and that you are unsure of your place and your rights and your ability to be listened too. If you feel like that, I can help.

I can remember how afraid I was about participating in world wide forums. For me the first time was 10 years ago. I wrote a letter about dancing in New Zealand and sent it to a Usenet Group which was getting perhaps 30 letters a day. There were people on that network who I respected for their expertise. I was terrified that in my first post I might offend someone.

I posted. I waited. I checked my mail twice in the middle of the night. I waited. I checked my mail. I waited. Nothing.

I learnt slowly that people are not interested in "my opinion" they are only interested in their own opinions. What I had to say about New Zealand was of no particular interest. When people find their own opinions are disputed then are very interested. People defend their patch with passion. Too few are able renew their patch with new ideas and opinions. Even fewer have the confidence and the courage to redefine, enlarge and replant the territory they stand for. Most people deny themselves an open future. They choose to live in a self made fortress that is impervious to new ideas and contrary opinions.

It's hard, but try not to be like that. Make some room in your life for not knowing all the answers. Give yourself space in which to learn and develop.


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