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Social Networking, the “Third Place,” and the Evolution of Communication

Social Networking, the “Third Place,” and the Evolution of Communication
The New Media Consortium’s Series of Online Conferences is designed to explore emerging topics
in education and technology, using current communication technologies to bring people together
online in a way that offers many of the same affordances of a face-to-face conference. Of
particular importance are opportunities for the kinds of social interactions that make in-person
conferences so valuable: hallway conversations, end-of-the-day informal gatherings,
opportunities to speak with presenters in between sessions, and highly interactive breakout
sessions that invite participation from the audience.
As part of a new approach to how we design our online conferences, this paper is being released in
advance of the NMC Online Conference on the Evolution of Communication to spark discussion,
discourse, and especially critical thinking on the topic. This first topical paper is being released in a
form that encourages discussion and that itself embodies the topic of the changing nature of
communication. The conference itself, to be held December 4-5, 2007, will take place in the virtual
world of Second Life and will incorporate some of the tools and trends identified here.
The purpose of this white paper is to put forth a proposition that we hope will generate
considerable conversation. The premise is simple, but touches on concepts and ideas that are
well established within the academy, and as such, it is a topic about which there may be some
strongly held perspectives. Our premise is that technology has not only mediated
communication in countless ways, but that the very ways we communicate—and even the
ways we talk and think about communication—are changing as a result.
Part of this premise is backward looking, in the sense that if we set literature and the creative
side of communication aside for a moment, the formal communication strategies we have
been taught in schools were often focused on how to convey lots of ideas or information (at
relatively infrequent intervals) and generally in the form of written papers (like this one),
books, or compilations.
Added to and fueling the premise is an admittedly unscientific assessment of how we have
added to those forms in recent years. A look in almost any direction will reveal patterns of
communication very different than the traditional writing in which we were trained. Small
bursts of information, technology-mediated for the most part, permeate our experiences, and
increasingly we have people with whom we are in contact almost constantly—and more so
every day, these people are scattered across the globe.
Mediated by new tools and new technologies that have made the marginal cost of long
distance communication essentially free, both work and social activities are commonly shared
by groups of people who need not be geographically near each other to be close. Our
premise, simply put, is that these and similar trends represent a significant shift in the way we
interact with others and in the way we understand the nature of those interactions.
This paper is not intended to be a lexicon of terms and definitions. Rather, its focus is to
consider the ways that communication is changing and raise the question of how this shift
can be applied to teaching, learning and creativity. It is our hope that this paper will
© 2007, The New Media Consortium; released under a Creative Commons Attribution- Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
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