Did you get my email?

The more I work with adult learners, the more I realise how de-stablising social media technology can be. The skills learned though office automation; faxing; emailing; word processing; spreadsheets and presentation applications; were a means to an ‘end product’, now we are using technology as ‘live’ product, where nothing is ‘final’ or ‘missing’.

Email goes from one place to another, prompted by some imperative, with limited distribution, and with a limited useful life. We use it to organize and ‘wrap’ our work into parcels, As soon as we attach something to an email, we become less efficient, as we are halving the message and doubling the effort needed to interpret it. If working on a brochure, I’d email the ‘copy’ to the designer, and wait to get a proof back – by digital envelope.

Our social contracts change when the ‘work’ is being evolved in parallel with the discussion – in a wiki. Wikis are not challenging in terms of mastery, but challenge practices and beliefs. To use it, we have to unlearn the ‘netiquette’ of email and relearn negotiation, co-production and collaboration using hyper-dynamic media.  Learning to use a wiki (over email) is like having ice poured down your shirt. It is contrary to adult notions of ‘privacy’. Adults are simply not used to this two-way interchange in groups.

Wikipedia demonstrates the long tail of the internet. In an organizational wiki, the reality of ‘office life’ is played out much more visibly. Everyone can participate; everyone is responsible for the overall goal of the group. Leadership comes through participation, negotiation and added value, as judged by the whole group, which is great as no one person has to be ‘the leader’ or have ‘all the answers’. Initial approaches must assume we are digital-strangers, not native, and that this ‘group’ action, will be modeled though social behaviour and interaction.  Imagine how ridiculous it would be to suggest everyone who ever added to a Wikipedia page, emailed each other to discuss the page. Email, like everything else is converging, and wikis stand poised to be the organizer and communicator of future working practice.

Why have a ‘shared drive’ when you can have a wiki? What does an email do for a group that a wiki won’t do better? We are not going to putting emails into folders, because we are ‘tagging’ them with metadata, which aligns with our folksonomies and wiki taxonomies. This to me is the new literacy. Not to just use a blog, or a wiki – but to recognise how, in the workplace, we are increasingly moving from files, folders and shared drives to group negotiated taxonomies and organizational knowledge – in order to be co-productive, collaborative and co-operative – regardless of distance.

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