Fragmented and connected: close encounters of a virtual kind

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Title: Fragmented and connected: close encounters of a virtual kind
Year: 2011
Authors: Roberts-Ferguson, T., & Dent, N.
Abstract:

Online communication is a massive social phenomenon that has revolutionised group, organisational, and interpersonal communications. This dramatic trend is likely to continue and have major implications, as well as opportunities, for the enhancement and detraction from the effective practice and science of human relations.

In contemporary times communication, group/organisational dynamics and interpersonal relationships are so deeply intertwined with this virtual medium of cyberspace transactions that the need for exploration and understanding is indeed vital and of great importance.

"Habbo, the world's fastest-growing virtual world, has more than 135 million members, 90 per cent of them aged 13'18. Avaaz, a global campaigning website which has 3.2 million members. Skype, which allows people to use the internet to make free telephone calls, is in effect the second-largest telephone carrier in the world, with almost 405 million users. It took Skype just five and a half years to acquire this user base. It took YouTube four years to attract 363 million regular users. Facebook acquired almost 236 million members in just five years. More video is uploaded to YouTube in two months than if the US television networks ABC, NBC and CBS had been broadcasting non-stop since 1948. The Technorati service tracks 93.9 million blogs, an activity unheard of ten years ago. Most of the biggest websites in the world are platforms for mass participation and collaboration, self-expression and social connection: YouTube attracts almost a fifth of internet users; Blogger is the seventh most popular site in the world; Twitter got 67 million unique visitors a month in 2009; Flickr, the photo sharing site, serves 68 million views a month; Facebook, the social networking site, attracts 370 million unique visitors a month" (Leadbeater 2010, pp.20-21).

As these statistics demonstrate the internet allows an unprecedented number of people to form groups and conversations around ideas and issues that are of interest and are important to them. This explosion of connections and interaction has resulted in instant access to information from around the world and as with the advent of any new technology there are different ways of seeing and measuring the value it adds. Not surprisingly the effect of the internet on individuals, organisations and society has divided opinion.

It seems as if there is much to consider here to consider; culturally, psychologically, socially, even philosophically. And given the interactive, group nature of online participation it begs the question, what can we learn about them by applying what systems psychodynamics knows about face to face groups?

This proposal is informed by research undertaken and the two research papers written by Tim and Nuala as part of their study towards a Master of Organisation Dynamics.

The research system for the project is a Virtual Large Study Group (VLSG), conducted via a bulletin board in early 2010. The task of the VLSG was described by the director on the bulletin board as "The VLSG will utilise a Tavistock group relations approach to the task of deepening the understanding of the group and organizational dynamics of a large group conducted asynchronously on a bulletin board in cyberspace." The task described in these words can be understood in at least two different ways:

1. to study the dynamics of a virtual group using the large study group methodology (Vlsg); or

2. to study the dynamics of a large study group using the online environment (vLSG).

It became apparent during the research and in writing the research papers that Tim and Nuala each held one of these two understandings. Tim held and explored Vlsg (virtual collaboration) while Nuala's focus was vLSG (group relations). While it has been clear that these perspectives are different, it has also felt as though they are complementary; until now there hasn't been the time and space to explore this properly.

Two key areas from the papers are summarised in this proposal and will be presented in details as part of the panel discussion. The first, from the vLSG perspective, is the three cornerstones of group relations ' task, territory and time ' used to interrogate the data and to identify similarities and differences between the virtual and face-to-face large study groups. Then from the Vlsg perspective, a construct particular to the virtual environment, though not necessarily just to the VLSG, is suggested. This construct explores both the virtual and physical aspects of participants' interactions ' and the unique challenges and opportunities that the online environment creates.

The research system and the research methodology, as summarised below, will also be explained as context during the panel session. The aim of this panel session is to share with participants the key findings of the research project, and to explore the integration of the key ideas that grew from the research into the two research papers. Through the potential in this integration and with the help of the attendees, Nuala and Tim believe the session can offer hope and learning for organisations toward the integration of their physical and virtual operations.

Keywords: virtual, large group, internet, collaboration, communication
Language: English


Date: 6/18/2011
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Name of Event/Conference: ISPSO 2011 Annual Meeting
Sponsoring Organization: ISPSO

Submitted by:
Nuala Dent

Corresponding author:

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