Thursday, September 16, 2010

The "Serious Magic" of Your Face

TED posted a few days ago Chris Anderson's July 2010 talk "How web video powers global innovation"

I was interested in the portion of Anderson's talk, @11:35, in which he discusses the "serious magic" of non-verbal communication:
There are hundreds of subconscious clues that go to how well you understand, and whether you are inspired. . . . All of this can be conveyed, incredibly, on a few inches on a screen. Reading and writing are relatively recent inventions. F2f communication has been fine-tuned over millions of years of evolution. That's what's made it into the powerful thing it is. Someone speaks; there's resonance in all these receiving brains, and the whole group acts together. This is the connective tissue in the human super-organism in action. It's driven our culture for millenia.
I myself am addicted to the "serious magic" of f2f. In long conversations today with my two best gfs in LA, I certainly craved to see their faces. (Frankly, to hug them: TMI?) In the classroom, I have always relished the ripple of energy around the seminar table, the embodied quality of f2f learning. The stuff we never talk about in academia b/c it's just too embarrassing. The stew of smells in a little brick room as we cluster around a seminar table, the shy glances pinging between students around the room, the huge variations in body posture and openness. 

I wonder if f2f burns learning into the brain in ways we aren't conscious of?

Why else would conferences and events remain so popular?  Even the most technically agile new media academics expect that f2f "is important for the online network part" of our working lives.  Check out Howard Rheingold and Sheryl Grant discussing the pleasures of f2f collaboration and hanging out at the upcoming "Designing for Learning" conference in March 2011.

Business execs feel the same way.  A Forbes Insight study, "The Case for Face-to-Face" (2009), notes that although videoconferencing is up by 77%, f2f conferencing remains the strong preference for 85% of the 760 respondents.  Why?  F2f allows them to "build stronger business relationships" and "read body language" more accurately.

Despite the penetration of new media in higher education, f2f still drives most of what happens in classrooms across the world in thousands of residential universities.

For how much longer? Anderson cites Sysco data that in 2014, 90% of the content on the Internet will be vid. We will all be crowdsourcing anything even remotely visual.

Universities are facing a choice: either embrace video & crowd sourcing, like right now. Or go the way of the RIAA, silo their content, and hope that students and their parents find brick and ivy reeeeaaaaaallly charming. Charming enough to go into debt for when u can crowdsource it--or parts of it--for free. Anderson cites JOVE, a vid sharing system for peer-reviewed science.

I know that many universities are giving away some of their curricula. But the embrace of NM can't be cordoned off into other spaces--the Open University, iTunes U, etc. It ought to refigure the university experience per se.

It would be wise to study what f2f offers learners rather than 1) hew to it because it's what we've always done; or 2) fuhgeddaboutit b/c pretty soon we'll all just skype and crowdsource our learning anyway.

Have you read/written/seen studies about the value (or lack thereof) of f2f?

Drop me a comment and lemme know!


Howard Rheingold said...

I teach a course about social media that meets ftf once a week and spends the rest of the week communicating via blogs, forums, and wikis. The face to face part is indeed where the magic happens -- or where it is catalyzed. Why go to all the trouble of being in a room together when we have all of these media, if not for that thick, indefinable, largely subconscious mix of nonverbal cues?

Kathi Inman Berens said...

Yeah, Howard, well said. The "thick mix of nonverbal cues" reminds me of Geertz's "thick description," Geertz's ethnographic method. I think that's one thing f2f offers the opportunity to think through: an ethnographical perspective on how communities form, communicate, create meaning collectively. It's why I almost always feel sad when a semester ends: I will miss the distinct culture we've created together. Thnx for your post!