I spent the weekend co-running the Social Software in the Academy Workshop which was mighty fun and stimulating (with scattered notes on the wiki). As i was rushing out, one attendee said he was so glad he came, it was good to see people in person. And then he said something about how i’m much nicer in person. Hmmm….
This comment definitely stung, although i don’t think he meant it to. One of the problems with impression management in situations with unknown audiences and impossible-to-read reactions is that it’s really difficult to gauge how you’re being perceived. I have no clue how people envision me based on my digital persona except that folks always say that i’m much different in person. Conversely, my friends tell me that my blog is clearly a projection of me. But they can probably hear my voice in my ramblings.
I need to think about this more, but it’s a really interesting problem. I’ve written about the problems with coarse data before, explicitly talking about what happens when we build models of individuals based on feedback like A/S/L. Given Aronsons’ work (in brief, first impressions matter and are near impossible to overturn), coarse data is highly problematic. The thing about blogging is that it appears to be rich data, not coarse data. Yet, at the same time, how are the mental models of an individual connected to them? And worse, how do our models based on digital interactions fail to prepare us for what happens when we interact? This has huge implications on our ability to get to know people online.
I don’t know why but i don’t hold on to names. Ever. In any situation. This is actually very convenient for the digital/physical separation. I email with hundreds of people a day and yet, if i don’t know them in everyday life, i won’t build a model around their name and face. Instead, i build a model around email@example.com or whatever. So, when i see friendly’s name in my inbox, i have a mental model. The thing that i don’t do is connect friendly to Sally Smith so when i meet Sally, i never remember having emailed with that person. It takes meeting Sally and then moving the physical conversation back to the digital for me to start to connect the pieces.
Of course, this can be quite embarrassing too. For example, i’ve read Mathemagenic for a long time and have talked with its author on various occasions. Separately, i regularly heard about a blogger named Lilia who my friends raved about. I met Lilia last month and immediately connected her with the person that my friends talked about. It took me a few hours before a friend slapped me over the head for having disconnected models of the same person and thus failing to realize that i should love Lilia 10 times more. Oops. (I love you Lilia!) Of course, this really sent me for a loop because the model i built of Lilia based on friends wasn’t far off but the model based on Mathemagenic was a different world. I realized that somehow, the Radioland style had made me generically build a model of all Radioland users which is not particularly helpful at all.
So what are the mental models we build based on blogs? For being so rich, i suspect that they’re really poor representations of people we don’t know. Has anyone else experienced disconnects between blogs and the RL person? Or is this just me?