Eventually, I say we need to add ‘forgiving’ to our practise of Digital Citizenship…


Eventually, I say we need to add ‘forgiving’ to our meaning of Digital Citizenship…

A couple months ago, I lost my enthusiasm for blogging. At some point during the discussions on twitter, my blog; and other blogs, about my post, “Should Kindergarteners be on Twitter?” I realized I was no longer enjoying it. In fact, it was quite the opposite. I learned some lessons from it, but I still found it hard to move past it and post again (yes I have two posts after it, but they were written and posted as the conversation was continuing about kindergarten). I have many ideas for posts that I’d like to write, and I think about them quite a lot, but I need to get past that discussion first. I hoping this blog will be part of that and a start to push me to write more. I haven’t read through the comments again but I know someday I will…The part that dragged me down the most was, during the discussion I was constantly (or so it seemed) labeled arrogant (something I felt/feel was unwarranted).

I think that comments sometimes become the context your post is evaluated in; you’re known by the company you keep, as it were. Once someone labels you as arrogant or any other label, it pushes others to see you similarly—where they might have given you the benefit of the doubt before, the context of “arrogant’ pushes them to interrupt your writing a similar way. No matter how: I tried to soften my message; I tried to leave parts of it as agree to disagree; I tried to accept part or at least partly accept what others were writing, I could not escape the charge of arrogance once it had been raised. I think that I had a sense of the ‘principle of context’ before I started. One of the reasons I argue / respond to my comments at such length is because I don’t want to leave it to influence others….I want them to consider my points separate from the context (at least initially….after they have formed their initial impression of me or my point, then other comments just serve to give them more to consider rather then a light to understand me by…). I think this is something basic about blogging that we all should understand…

Why does this happen?

I think that people are influenced by the context of text on the Internet more than in face-to-face. Ads, fonts, comments, etc are perhaps used to replace some of the missing information that we’ve evolved to seek out and interpret in face-to-face communication. I’ve heard many times that most of out communication is non-verbal. People point out: tone, pitch, speed, facial expression, body language, social context as aspects of communication that help construct and interpret meaning. On a blog these aspects are largely missing. We get a shadow of the rich communication we are used to. In the absence of these aspects, people are still looking for more information to inform their interpretation or that information is streamed to them unbidden to enhance/obscure the original intent.

Because we are writing for the invisible audience in a de-contextualized, persistent way, messages require more interpretation on the part of the receiver to construct meaning. Because more is required from the receiver, they influence their interpretation of meaning more. Because of this, there is inherently more chance of misunderstanding intent/meaning on the Internet then there is is face-to-face communication.

Given the above premises, what should we do? I would like us to emphasize a new component of digital citizenship (could be just the emphasis that is new). People are good at articulating the need to be polite and thoughtful as part of citizenship; now I am suggestion they also have to push the need to: give the benefit of the doubt; be generous in your interpretation of others; realize your influence on the message you’ve decoded; seek clarification; be empathic; and most importantly, be forgiving.

This will help everyone, including your students. On web 2.0 tools people are learning. Inherent in that statement is that they will make mistakes (me, you, your students). The mistakes can be many and varied. You may be teaching your kids to be careful and thoughtful, but obviously they will make mistakes too. It behooves all of us to make an environment that is tolerant of mistakes, understanding of mistakes, and forgiving of mistakes. This needs to be part of out digital citizenship as well because without it -because social media is persistent and scalable– it is too dangerous an environment to learn in….people will be labeled, judged, regarded on their learning process, not themselves at the ‘end’ of the journey or after they’ve learned more…


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  1. #1 by Elaine on January 6, 2012 - 1:51 pm

    A very thoughtful post. As you mention, I don’t think that “forgiveness” is new component of digital citizenship but one that perhaps needs much greater emphasis. I agree completely with your statement,

    ” People are good at articulating the need to be polite and thoughtful as part of citizenship; now I am suggestion they also have to push the need to: give the benefit of the doubt; be generous in your interpretation of others; realize your influence on the message you’ve decoded; seek clarification; be empathic; and most importantly, be forgiving.”

    I think that part of the problem is that for many people, the “normal” rules of professional dialogue seem to go by the wayside when it comes to online discussion. Apart from misinterpreting tone, etc. people seem to feel it’s okay to speak to people online in a way that they would never speak to someone face to face. I find this odd as one would think that because we are not able to read visual expression, hear tone, etc. we would be much more careful or thoughtful in our online discussions. It is easy to judge or misinterpret someone even when dealing face to face.

    I would also go further and suggest that it is okay to disagree with someone without attaching labels, judging or attacking. As teachers, most of us are pretty passionate about what we do. The reality is that we are not always going to agree with each other and that’s okay and, dare I say it, I think that’s a good thing. We need to push back and we need others to push back at us. This does not have to lead to a fight or “ganging” up on an individual (something I’ve seen on an alarmingly regular basis).

    • #2 by Patrick Tucker on January 6, 2012 - 2:13 pm

      thanks for the quick reply. I appreciate what you are saying. We need empathy on the interent to help us stay respectful.

      I have trouble relating to people on the internet sometimes because I don’t get enough information about them. When we are left with only their comment to interact with, it is easy(ier) to forget the person. Maybe that distance is what is allowing for people to say the things they wouldn’t to their face. A difficulty for sure; for me as well as others…

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