Yesterday, I was going back over discussions on blog posts I have been tracking and something rather unsettling came to light. To put things into context, bear with me while I take a quick detour down Allegory Lane.
My stepdad isn't a very bright man. He's a lovely, salt of the earth, blue collar guy who cares about nature and the outdoors. However, when he is with my extended family, he comes over all insecure. The conversation flows fast and furious, full of wit and riposte... and he can't keep up. So he drinks a little too much and makes loud, off-topic statements, trying to claim a space in the conversation for himself - usually without success. One of my uncles is a deeply gentle, gracious man, who can almost always be relied upon to engage him one to one. One of my aunts is quite patronising and condescending towards him, but my stepdad doesn't have the subtlety of nature to have realised this (especially after a few beers)... and he adores her. My heart aches for him when I see him in this uncomfortable position - especially when he embarrasses himself.
Yesterday, I began to wonder if I am not like my stepdad in this read/write web conversation. For the first time in a long time (since CoComment stopped working for me, really), I was looking at a long list of the conversations to which I have contributed. I comment on many posts, but am seldom drawn into the conversation. Other comments will refer to one another, but my comments seem to off in a side eddy somewhere. I don't think I had had that vantage point from which to view this vista before.
I began to wonder whether in fact, I have anything of value to add in this space. Not in a self-pitying, bring-on-the-violins kind of way. More from the perspective of my dissertation. You see, I have been taking the view that the whole web 2.0 social media/networking thing had empowered the whole community, the whole connected world to access the conversation. And in theory, this is absolutely true. But in practice, the community has the power to vote with its feet, to ignore posts it finds uninteresting, to ignore the loud off-topic statements that come from the slightly insecure person in the corner who hasn't quite figured out that s/he is out of his/her league. So, in fact, it becomes a self-selecting conversation between those who 'get it'.
And this makes me worried about us also-rans. If 2.0 spaces do not, in fact, enable us to engage because what we have to say is not high-brow enough, does that not effectively reduce the pool of contributions? Are we not back with a form of elitism, albeit a more democratic one?
My mother-in-law has a little homily stuck on the side of her fridge:
I know this sounds all Zen tree-falls-in-forest-ish, but if we're making our contributions and they are being ignored/overlooked/choose your word, are we really making any contribution at all? Do we really have access to the conversation? Are we really engaged in the exchange, adding our 2p worth to the sum of the network's knowledge?
Hmm. Is a puzzlement....