A Tool to Add to Your Reflective Practices Toolkit: "Oh Life"

I've written before about the importance of reflective practice in professional development--the process of reflecting on your development as a professional and recording those thoughts somehow. The problem for most people is that getting in a regular practice of reflecting and recording can be difficult. Developing new habits can be hard, so having a tool to help you along can be invaluable.

So, via TechCrunch and Marianne Lenox, here's a new one to consider adding to your reflective practice arsenal-OhLife. The site pretty much says it all:

  Picture 10

It's an email-based journaling option that will remind you daily about posting with the added bonus of including a random entry you've posted previously. Your nightly email looks like this:


Some advantages for reflective practice:

  • Even if we hate it, we all still check email. Having a daily reminder to think about what you've learned that lands in your inbox each night seems like a good way to start developing the daily practice of reflection. 
  • The daily reminder comes at 8 p.m, so if you're a night person, it's a good time to do it immediately. If you're a morning person, it will be waiting for you when you get up.
  • The random reminder of previous posts can be a great spark to additional learning and reflection--I could see getting a reminder of where I'd been at in a project previously and being able to post on how far I've come. Or if I'd posted on a particular tool or idea but hadn't done anything else with it, the reminder might be enough to get something going again.
  • Posts are archived on the web for easy access from any computer and (presumably) your smart phone. They are also totally private, so you can keep this reflective practice journal just for yourself. 
Seems like a nice option for a learning/reflective practice journal, no?

Liveblogging Stephen Downes on PLEs at Brandon Hall

Stephen_downes_altc_4 PLE is a way of viewing learning on the web--we're not centered on one application.

Stephen's PLE:

  • Store photos (Flickr) and video (Google video)
  • Place to work collaboratively through Google docs.
  • Way to stay up to date (Google Reader)--My note--only 4-5 people in this group of about 40 who use RSS!!!
  • Way to save money on long-distance calls (Skype)
  • Knowing where he's staying before he gets there (Google Maps)
  • Way to draw (Gliffy)

What do PLEs mean for learners--A world full of free learning resources. Three major ways to view

  • Can think of them as a "thing" and "object"--books, content, etc.
  • Can think of them as "events"--class, lecture, etc.
  • Can think of them as flow--stresses experience and pattern recognition. This is how we should be thinking of them.

Living in a world of user-generated content. It's personal, opinionated. It's games, comics, photos, etc.

It's a network of interactions--people linking to, connecting to other people

It's immersive--learning follows you. Learning environment should always be available to you inside other environments.

New roles for students as creators of learning, for teachers as coaches and mentors and for the rest of as as teachers.

Because everyone is hyper-connected and can create create content, can do their work in an open and public way. This open way adds value. A welder videotapes himself welding--that creates live, dynamic learning resources for anyone in the world who is interested. Idea is that everyone, not a select set of trained people, becomes a teacher and a learner.

Web of user-generated content. More interesting than Wikipedia are the billions of pages of how to do things.

Your network becomes the filter--they are the ones who act as editors for you. Structure of web of interactions is what creates the filter. How we construct our web will determine how well we can filter.

Learning becomes a network phenomenon. Learning is immersion of yourself in a community of practice and web of interactions. Web is composed of people who are interested in the same things.

Issues--too much info, too many sources to scan, localization/personalization and relevance.

Network semantics--some kinds of networks are more reliable than others. Some can produce "cascade phenomenon" where everyone is doing the same thing (like spread of disease or a rumor).  If your network is too tightly joined so that everyone can be exposed quickly in a short number of hops, then something can spread very rapidly. Need a network that will slow down the propagation of ideas, that will create communities that give enough time for alternative ideas to spread too. This allows for both to have an equal chance of being represented in the network.

Principles of this kind of network are semantic principles--design of networks that are least likely to create cascade phenomenon but more likely to spread ideas. Right now we have too much connectivity.

Semantic Principle--four elements

  • Each person who has a PLE is autonomous. Chooses own software, making own decisions, etc. (Stephen's PLE--gRSSHopper). Not just a place where you consume content--it's also where you create content. PLE aggregates and stores content so that the learner can create own content.
  • Diversity--Goes against our natural inclination. Typically we're told that "sameness" defines community and collaboration. Strength of network comes not from common identity but from diversity. People are defining own perspective and point of view and then communicating with everyone else. Then a perspective and knowledge emerges as a consequence of those conversations.
  • Connectedness--diversity must be connected and interactive. From web of interactions comes knowledge. Small pieces, loosely joined. The network has the knowledge, not necessarily any one individual.
  • Open--No barriers to joining the network. No division points, etc.

(My note--Wondering if this is way beyond a lot of the people in this room--do they know the individual tools enough to get the concepts?)

Stephen is noting that the different ways that people are organizing themselves online for the Connectivism course (i.e., Moodle, Second Life, Ning, etc.) are impacting the quality of the conversation. On Moodle, where things are very hierarchical, there are a few people dominating "conversation" and stifling most other ideas. Bloggers are more open, diverse, etc. (represent more of the semantic principles)--having more "productive" discussions. No one is dominating the conversation--everyone is heard, everyone has a voice. Stephen sees this as a function of the tool. I wonder if certain kinds of people aren't attracted to different kinds of tools. Which comes first? People selecting a certain tool that supports their behavior or people behaving according to how the tool operates?

PLE is a way for each person to have their own presence in the network--to be a node in the network. It means aggregating, networking, filtering and feeding forward the info to other connections in the network.

Key technologies:

  • Tagging--people choose how they will categorize info and the cumulative effect becomes a diverse, autonomous way of referring to the world.
  • AJAX--way for web page to "talk to server without having to reload itself." Works with JSON to create very tight connections.
  • REST (representational state transfer) way to associate a website with data. Key to mash-ups.
  • Open ID--can share data among different sites.

(My note--I spoke with a woman at lunch from Cisco who said she felt this all missed the mark, was too "big picture" and "academic" for her. I think people were more interested in how to construct and support PLEs, rather than delving into the underlying principles. They seemed to want more concrete information from a practitioner standpoint)

UPDATE--For more on personal learning environments (PLEs), check out this post.

10 Tips for Creating a Personal Learning Plan

Why_2 These are some notes I found in in one of the artist sketch pads I use to capture my off-line ideas (yes, I do work offline). They seem particularly appropriate to share in light of yesterday's post on being a "career untouchable.

Tips for Creating a Personal Learning Plan

1. Reflect on successes, challenges, etc., from the previous year. Also reflect on trends in your industry and/or occupation.

  • What strengths do you want to further develop?
  • What weaknesses do you want to mitigate?
  • What specific skills do you want to work on?

2. Brainstorm some learning goals for the next 6 months. Try using the BHAG approach to goal-setting.

3.  Ask yourself if these goals make you feel excited and energized. If they don't, keep working on them until they do.

4. Look at your list and ask yourself, "If I could only accomplish two things on this list, what would they be?" Put the rest on a "some day" list.

5. What mini goals do you want to set for yourself? Where do you want to be a week from now, a month from now, two months from now, at the end of your learning experience?

6. How do you want to learn? What resources are available to you? Can you connect with other people who are want to learn the same thing? Come up with a preliminary plan for pursuing your learning. Also give yourself permission to change that plan as you go through your project.

7. Set specific concrete tasks for yourself to accomplish every day.

8. Be sure to set aside time to accomplish those tasks. Consider your energy levels and use times of day where you're more alert and engaged. Learning shouldn't be relegated to when you're exhausted.

9. At least once a week review and reflect upon both what you've been learning and your learning plan. Document your reflections somehow--written in a blog post, record audio or video.

10. Use your reflections on your learning plan to change course if necessary. Have you found another topic you want to pursue? Are you finding that you're interest in your topic is waning? Do you need to change tactics? Refine your plan as you go.

It's critical to pursue learning that gets you really excited and energized, particularly when you won't have the "stick" of your boss or someone else requiring you to learn. That, to me, is one of the most important elements of a personal learning plan.

I also think it's important to try to be purposeful in learning. This is something I'm personally struggling with right now as I've fallen into a bit of a "let the learning wash over me" kind of pattern. I'm reading, I'm writing, I'm observing, I'm doing,  but I can't say it's to any particular purpose. That isn't to say that you always need a purpose. Sometimes your learning purpose evolves, rather than being too set at the beginning. But at a minimum I need to be thinking about more questions that I want answers to. Right now I'm letting what I'm reading set the agenda. I need to be clearer about my own questions and how what I'm experiencing leads me to new questions. That's ultimately what a learning plan is--defining for yourself the questions you want answers to and then pursuing learning that helps you both answer those questions and find new ones.

Flickr photo via e-magic

5 Questions to Ask Yourself If You Want to be a "Career Untouchable"

Off_limits_final I've always said there's no such thing as job security. Whether we realize it or not, most of us are essentially independent contractors, working at the whim of our customers, assured of employment only as long as we are able to add value in some way.

This weekend I started thinking about ways to become a "career untouchable."  That is, how do we position ourselves so that we are always providing value to our customers, whether they are an employer or some other kind of customer. I came up with 5 key questions that I think we need to ask ourselves and be able to answer yes to:

1. Am I doing work that I'm passionate about?

Usually this is the work we tend to throw ourselves into and that passion shows. People who are intrinsically motivated tend to far out-perform those who are motivated by external things, such as pay.

2. Am I doing work that plays to my strengths

There's the stuff that we can do, but it's not a strength, and then there's the stuff that we're REALLY good at. We are most likely to be adding value when we're doing work that plays to the things we're strongest in, rather than when we're doing work that isn't where our talents lie. Knowing what we're good at and building our skills to capitalize on those strengths will take us further than building a career on skills that we struggle to develop and maintain. Now Discover Your Strengths is a great resource for doing this.

3. Does my work involve one or more of Dan Pink's six key competencies?

Dan Pink, author of A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, argues that we've left the Information Age and moved into the Conceptual Age where the key to adding value is by utilizing 6 "right brain" competencies:

  • Design – Design--creating simple, elegant ways of doing things--is difficult to outsource or automate.
  • Story – The ability to construct a compelling narrative
  • Symphony – Seeing relationships between diverse and seemingly separate elements.
  • Empathy – The ability to truly understand where another person is coming from.
  • Play – Good salary and benefits are not enough to keep a team working with you. They must be able to enjoy and have fun at their work.
  • Meaning – Understanding and embracing that people are spiritual beings and when we help people find meaning we are adding value in ways that machines cannot.

(NOTE--You can download a great mindmap of Dan's book here)

4. Am I continually monitoring trends in my field and upgrading my skills to be ahead of the curve?

So many industries and occupations are being transformed by new technologies and new structures. These trends require us to adapt and acquire new skills. If we aren't on top of these trends and doing what we can to develop ourselves, we could easily be left behind. That's why we need to develop a PLE.

5. Have I set up a passive online marketing plan that includes an online portfolio and active management of my reputation
so that I'm communicating a positive personal brand?

To be a career untouchable, we need to keep our options open, both within our organizations and outside of them. We need to be aware of and communicating about our passions, our strengths, the ways we want to develop and add value. Tools like online portfolios, blogs and social networking profiles, (such as on LinkedIn) can help us keep our networks active and our talents out there. They help us establish our personal brands and maintain a positive professional reputation.

Answering yes to these questions suggests that you've positioned yourself well for your future. If you answer "no" to one or more of these, I think it might be time to do some career fine-tuning.

What do you think about these questions? Can you think of others we need to ask in order to make ourselves "untouchable"?

Slow Learning for Fast Times

In a world that's rapidly evolving and changing, I think there's a tendency to want to make our learning match the pace of change. There's a focus on activity and rapid development that intuitively seems to make sense, but that in the end may not actually prepare us well for this new place.

Nancy White has a great slideshow, Thinking About Slow Community (via Beth Kanter), that she blogs more about herehere and here. It's about the value in "slow, small and under-funded" communities (especially online) that got me thinking about the value in "slow learning," particularly in a time when so much of learning is about the communities we form and in which we participate.

Picture_3In this slide, imagine replacing the word "community" with "learning." Isn't this what we need? Learning that:

  • Creates time for connection and relationship (especially since so much of learning is now social, less about content and more about knowing from whom to get information).
  • That stops and notices what is actually happening in the moment. This is the essence of reflection and being a reflective practitioner. It's what Tony Karrer has talked about knowledge workers needing to be able to do in order to change and adapt their practices.
  • Takes time for reflection and self-awareness, both individually and within the larger community context.
  • Not too future-focused because the future is unpredictable.
  • Looks backward to learn from mistakes and successes.

To adequately engage in this kind of learning, though, we need to slow things down some. It feels to me like there's a frenetic pace going on, particularly online, where there's a tendency to chase the next big thing. We leapfrog from idea to idea without necessarily tying things together or really reflecting on where we've been or where we're going.

I think that professional development of the digital variety, using our personal learning environments and networks, has great promise and opportunity. At the same time, our activities online can easily become a focus on activity for its own sake, rather than a path to real learning. We can get so caught up in building an extensive network that we lose sight of the best ways to engage with that network.

We may also forget to really engage with ourselves and our own ideas as we spend so much time reading and reacting to others, we can easily forget who we are and what we believe. We end up engaging in a sort of "group-think" that we're moving too quickly to realize.  This post by Mike Caulfield perfectly captures that dilemma:

What worries me about the modern world is not that amateurs are taking over. It’s that the amateurs might be so soaked in the conventional wisdom of a discipline from a very early point that they won’t bring those needed misreadings to the table that have always fueled progress in the past. That without the silence in between, the conversation will become less varied and meaningful.

Amid all our connectedness and activity, we need to also seek out the silences and the slow times during which our ideas can percolate. Says Nancy,

In the rush to colonize the possibility of community on the internet, with its characteristic speed and fleetness of metaphorical foot, we may have lost sight of the fact that some many of our most precious communities are slow, small and underfunded.

What kind of magic is this? What should we be paying attention to?

Is it time for a “slow community” movement? What would that look like to you? More importantly, how would it make your world a better place?

And I'll add to that--is it time for some slow learning? What would that look like? How might it better serve our purposes?

Social Media and Learning

Picture_1_2 From the slideshow by Neil Perkins, What's Next in Media, via Beth Kanter.

Replace Neil's title with this-Learning 2.0: Workplace Learning Professionals Take on a Broader Role and the word "audience" with "learners" and I think this slide sums up a lot of how social media changes what we do. This is a sort of elaboration on my earlier thoughts about instructional designers and trainers as digital curators that breaks it down into some more discrete kinds of roles.

I would add another role, though--Network weaver. Who you know is now as important--if not more important--than what you know. In a connected world, it's all about finding and making the right kinds of connections and as learning professionals, I think that helping learners weave these connections becomes an important aspect of our jobs. Yes, we still help people find the right content, but we also need to create the environment that helps people find each other and build effective personal learning networks.


Here's another slide from Neil's presentation. Replace the column headers with "Learning 1.0" and "Learning 2.0" and the word "consumer" with "learner," and I think this sums up how the learning space is changing thanks to social media.

It seems to me that when we incorporate social media into learning, the values inherent in that media are going to force us to change our pedagogies. For example, inherent to social media is that space is defined by the learner and the learner is in control. If social media becomes a true part of the learning equation (as is increasingly the case for many people), this means learners creating PLEs and defining their own learning plans and objectives. I suspect that the more we use social media in other areas of life and work, the more it's going to shape our expectations about how we participate in learning. If we're used to participating in two-way conversations and being able to influence our environments, how content will we be to participate in "Learning 1.0" where we're expected to just sit back and absorb what we're being told?

What do you think? Am I off-base or do these things make sense? How do you think social media is shaping learning?

UPDATE--Beth Kanter reminded me of a whole post with resources she did on effective online network weaving.

Using Del.icio.us to Create an Easy, Always Updated Online Portfolio

A few days ago, I was checking out Nine Notable Uses for Social Bookmarking (read the article--there's stuff there you probably haven't considered before) and I was struck by number 6--build an online portfolio.

I personally believe that having an online portfolio is a critical work literacy skill and an important part of an overall online identity management strategy. So back in April I ran a webinar on using free online tools to create an online portfolio. At that time I was focused on creating a very structured, "beautiful"  product, so I covered how to use wikis and blogs to construct a portfolio. However, the problem with that approach is that it requires a lot of work to continually update your portfolio, which means that you're less likely to do it. What you need is a way to easily and quickly add items to your portfolio that fits into work processes you already have set up.

What's intriguing about using social bookmarks (in my case, del.icio.us) to create an online portfolio is that it makes it much easier for me to update on a regular basis. As I create items online--wikis for a training, handouts, blog posts I want to share, Slideshare presentations, etc.--I can simply tag them with "michelemartinportfolio" and they'll automatically show up in my "portfolio" without me having to go through any extra steps of posting them to a wiki or a blog. Since I have del.icio.us integrated into my Firefox browser, all I have to do is right-click on the item, add a note describing it in the Notes section, and then tag it with my portfolio tag. Voila--my portfolio is updated!

Here's how it looks (I need to add more items though):


A couple of other comments on this:

  • When you create a tag, you can also write a 1000 character description of your tag. That's how I created the description of my portfolio that you see at the top.
  • The del.icio.us feature that shows how many other people saved the item acts as a kind of "recommendation" system. Presumably the more people who bookmarked it, the more valuable it is. If I have a lot of items that many people have bookmarked, this indicates that I'm providing some level of quality.
  • If people sign up for the RSS feed to this tag, they can automatically be notified when I add new items to my portfolio. Think about how this could work in a work or classroom environment--you could have staff or students create portfolios by setting up their personal portfolio tag. You could then sign up to their tag feeds and receive automatic updates when items were added. Much easier way to keep track of things.

Although this isn't the prettiest portfolio in the world, I think it might be one of those "good enough" solutions that could have a lot of applications, both at work and for learning. For example, I could see creating an organizational portfolio using the same concept--that's the basic idea behind this "purpose-built" del.icio.us page from Shift Communications. You could also do this on a department or unit level. I'm sure there are other applications for this idea, too.

UPDATE--Here are more detailed written instructions for creating an e-portfolio with del.icio.us.

So what do you think? If you had a del.icio.us portfolio, would you be more likely to update it? And do you think there's value to having something like this?

How I Got Started with Social Media

California_dreamin0 Karyn Romeis is wondering how people got started with social media and what it's meant to their professional practice. This is part of her dissertation, which she is actually writing on a wiki--a strategy I think is pretty interesting. So here's my story. . .

I've been online since 1995, participating initially in email listservs and forums. I also dabbled in teaching classes with what we, at the time, called a "virtual office"--a website we set up where people could download class documents, listen to "podcasts" (although they weren't called that then) and discuss issues in forums.

  In October 2004, I became deeply immersed in creating art. (The illustrations here are mine--you can see I was a little angsty then).  I spent a lot of time online looking for techniques and resources and in that process, stumbled upon several artists' blogs. These intrigued me, so I got myself a Blogger blog and started sharing my own art online.

Through that process I got comfortable with the conventions of posting, commenting on other blogs, etc. It was a "no-risk" environment because I blogged anonymously and I was blogging in an area of personal interest, not in the professional realm. I felt little pressure to "produce" daily posts, in part because my posts were based on whether or not I had art to post, which tended to happen in spurts.

Interestingly, I was not at all intimidated by the technology. I had glitches and frustrations, but they were problems to solve, not barriers, and in some ways they drew me in more deeply. I also didn't do a lot of reading about blogging, so what I was learning was through trial and error, without measuring myself against some yardstick of how to run a blog or how it should perform. This was probably a good thing because I felt no pressure and could see each thing I learned about what to do on my blog as a little personal triumph that I'd figured out myself. 

As I continued to blog, my posts began to evolve. I went from simple uploads of art with a commentary on what media I used and the circumstances under which I produced a piece into more contemplative posts on the nature of creativity and how to handle dry spells (which should sound familiar to readers of The Bamboo Project). Blogging became not only a way to share art, but also to reflect on the artistic process.Driven_3 

Fast forward to Summer 2006 when I started The Bamboo Project. Initially I ran the blog with a friend, but eventually I took it over myself. I think one of the first places I landed when I started blogging professionally was at Beth Kanter's blog. This immersed me immediately into a whole new world of Web 2.0 technologies. Within a few weeks, I was into RSS, tagging and all things social media. Within a few months, I had started my first wiki and was blogging almost daily.

I think the next evolution in social media and my professional practice occurred when I wrote about my PLE in April 2007 and began exploring the whole issue of personal learning environments. That's when I first started to get more deliberate about using social media for learning.

Things went to the next level with my participation in the 31 Days to Building a Better Blog Challenge. This was my first major learning experiment. It also connected me to a world-wide community of bloggers from a variety of niches that I've continued to build upon and learn from in ways I never imagined when I first started blogging in 2004. Part of what has happened is that their comments and posts have pushed me to continue to examine my own professional development and practice on a regular basis. When I run out of questions to ask or things to think about, I can always count on my network to push me along.

How0_2I can't even begin to describe how this process has transformed my professional practice. Through it I've met amazing people who have wonderful ideas. But in some ways even more importantly, social media has made me far more reflective and deliberate about ongoing learning. Having a blog has encouraged me to write daily. To do that, I've had to read and research more and interact with the ideas that I'm encountering in order to write my posts. I've become more aware of what I do and why I do it and better at articulating those things for myself and for others.

Social media has made me more experimental, too. I make up projects for myself or join what's going on with other people. I play around with new tools and processes to see how they might work in a number of different settings. I've always been a learner, but I think that social media has made me be a more deliberate learner. Instead of just reading a book or magazine article, I actually interact with what I'm reading and seeing--writing posts, commenting on other people's posts, and creating various projects that allow me to further explore aspects of my profession and various ideas that emerge.

At this point, I can't imagine NOT using social media. Although I burn out from time to time, the benefits far outweigh the problems. Social media has become an integral part of how I do my work and has made me a far better practitioner and thinker in the process.

So that's my story. . . what's yours?

Shouldn't We All Be Learning Digital Literacy Skills?

A few weeks back, I was doing some thinking about 21st century workplace literacy and wondering why edubloggers and workplace learning bloggers weren't having more conversations about what constitutes "literacy" in a radically changed workplace. I would argue that by anyone's definition, digital literacy should be part of what we mean when we talk about the skills that all workers need to be successful. I'd go so far as to say that these are skills that would benefit all citizens, whether they're working or not.

Now I see that Vicki Davis has embarked on a project to build the digital skills of her young students through  "Digiteen," which she's set up to teach the skills identified in Digital Citizenship in Schools by Mike Ribble and Gerald Baily. They are:

1. Student Learning and Academic Performance

1A: Digital Access-- full electronic participation in society
1B: Digital Communication--the electronic exchange of information  
1C:  Digital Literacy-- the capability to use digital technology and knowing when and how to use it.

2. Student Environment and Student Behaviour

2A:  Digital Security and Safety-- the precautions that all technology users must take to guarantee their personal safety and the security of their network
2B:  Digital Etiquette--the standards of conduct expected by other digital technology users
2C: Digital Rights and Responsibilities--the privileges and freedoms extended to all digital technology users, and the behavioural expectations that come with them.

3. Student Life Outside the School Environment

3A: Digital Law-- the legal rights and restrictions governing technology use
3B: Digital Health and Wellnessthe elements of physical and psychological well-being related to digital technology use
3C:  Digital Commerce--the buying and selling of goods online

Looking at this list I have three questions:

  • Shouldn't "adults" have these skills too?
  • Do they?
  • If we think that these skills are important, what are we doing to make sure that people actually have them?

What do you think?

Why the Internet is Making Me Stupid

Birds_of_a_feather2 I learned a new word this week--"homophily," which is the tendency for people to associate and bond with others who share their interests, values, culture, demographics, class etc. This is the all-too-familiar online behavior I was remarking on earlier this week in my post on 21st century workplace literacy. There I noted that it seems like edubloggers tend to associate online with other edubloggers, while the workplace learning folks are talking to other workplace learning professionals. And it seems like there's little cross-communication happening between the two groups. I plan to come back to that discussion, especially after seeing all the great comments, but right now I'm fascinated by the whole homophily idea and how social media tools seem to further strengthen this very human tendency.

It was Amy Gahran's post, Breaking out of the Echo Chamber, that helped me identify the phenomenon. It's something I've noticed before, but didn't realize had a name attached to it. I've been thinking that being online has been this fabulous learning experience (which it definitely has been in many ways), but after following Amy's trail of links, I can also see that it also has the potential to make me dumber. She points to an interview with Ethan Zuckerman and Solana Larsen in which Zuckerman says:

“We know so little about one another, and what we do know is generally so wrong, that our first instinct is to try to shut each other off. …We have to work a whole lot harder. We can’t just assume that being connected [via the net] solves these problems. If you let us work it out on our own, we tend to reinforce our own prejudices and stereotypes. . .

Cass Sunstein, an amazing legal scholar, says that one of the dangers of the internet is that we’re only hearing like voices, and that makes us more polarized. Homophily can make you really, really dumb. What’s incredible about the net is we have this opportunity to hear more voices than ever. But the tools we tend to build to it have us listening to the same voices again and again."

Social media--blogs, social bookmarking, social networks--all of these can be tremendous ways for us to find and bond with like-minded people online. In fact, these tools have allowed us to find even MORE people like us than we tended to encounter in "meat space." The problem is that we'll tend to seek out ONLY like-minded people, looking for groups, blogs, etc. that reinforce our preconceived notions and our personal interests. We then start to live in an online world where we don't see or hear other voices.

Worse, I think we're living under this delusion that we're actually BROADENING our experiences because we're connecting to such large groups of people. I suspect all that does is further reinforce our pre-existing beliefs while at the same time making us believe that somehow we're being broad-minded because there are so many more people in our network. More of the same thinking isn't exactly a recipe for learning.

Partially this is a human thing--we tend to build relationships on finding the commonalities. But it's being encouraged by the technologies:

  • We go to Amazon or Netflix and get recommendations for books and movies based on what other people like us are reading or watching.
  • On Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace, we tend to first connect with the people we already know in real-life who tend to share our same values and world-view. Then we connect to their friends (who presumably also share similar world-views) and to seek out groups etc. that fit in with our interests and comfort zones. I know, for example, that as a Democrat, I've made zero attempt to find Facebook groups for Republicans. I don't even look at them.
  • As I've already noticed, many of us operate within the same narrow blogging fields. Edubloggers seek out other edubloggers, nonprofits seek out other nonprofits. There's nothing necessarily wrong with this--except that if these are the ONLY blogs in our feed readers. (Here's a test, by the way--go check your reader right now and see how many blogs you have in there that come from industries and occupations other than your own. If you do, I'll guess it's because you may also have blogs related to personal interests, etc. Do you have anything in there that doesn't MATCH what you already think? I know I don't have too many).

All of this has the impact of making me dumber. I know this. I think it's been the source of many of my instances of writer's block here. I also can see how it would make me a little lazy as a thinker--not as many challenges to my worldview. Certainly I get comments and suggestions that have me tinkering with the edges of my ideas, but am I encountering things that fundamentally shake my worldview or at least force me to examine my own? And if I do, do I actually examine my view or do I dismiss what I see, read or hear? I'm ashamed to say that many times I do.

The question becomes, what to do about it? If this is something to truly break out of (and I think it is), then how to do that?

That's something I'm going to delve into more deeply in another post. Through Amy's links I found a few ideas. I also found some interesting stuff on my own that I want to explore.

In the meantime--what do you think? Do you see homophily going on in your online interactions? Do you think it's making you dumber? What are you doing about it?

Photo via desert trumpet.