Online resonance in random crowds

What may be the factor which makes a connection between two people? There has been plenty of research on how to develop online connections once they have been made, but the question of how the initial contact is made has not received much attention. Jenny Mackness and Matthias Melcher explored this question in a discussion paper. You find the addresses of their ponderings in Jenny’s blog. The paper was published in 2010 and I remember how it inspired me. I decided to follow my connections in the next course (don’t remember what it was) but I didn’t succeed in doing it. I found some irritating people which I didn’t want to follow. The positive connections needed more time to occur in my online life.

The question about the quality of connections is fascinating  anyhow. Is it possible to plan a research on it, if I could not follow myself? How online connections are made in the very first instance of contact? What is it in an online environment that causes/enables one person to recognise another, in that first instance of ‘meeting’, as a potential learning partner, colleague or friend and to make the connection? When an idea or other element of an online artefact by an online author ‘resonates with’ an online reader, and he/she comments or responds, or at least will subsequently watch more attentively for more work by the author, then resonance occurs. This resonance initially occurs on a social (person to person) level, but it also involves the conceptual level and, furthermore, links the two levels in a very singular way.

Yesterday I followed #OER15 at home watching the keynote lectures and reading the Twitter stream simultaneously. I met many old friends and felt myself happy if they re-tweeted or favoured my tweet. I began to follow many experts which had interesting profiles in my eyes. Many of them followed me back and I suppose that these relations will stay mutual, because they are based on a shared interest. We are, or may be, on the same wavelength. I am not working in any institution any more, I am retired, but I can enrich my life by participation, sharing ideas and experiences world- widely. I am free to choose my friends.

The online environment offers a unique combination of the affordances. The technologically enabled online environment allows for both quick reactivity and asynchronous slower reflection. I prefer asynchronous communication because I am an introvert and  asynchronous online communication allows for more reflection and choice and the way to respond is more in the communicator’s control. I can check the words and make my English better. Also trust, empathy, closeness and friendship, all of which affect learning and communication arise differently in the online environment. There are new possibilities for us introverts. How could I proceed in understanding the question about online resonance?

Reflection on how any online connection is initiated, what might spark online resonance, leads immediately to the realisation that resonance is related to common thinking patterns and interests. There must be some shared interests. But resonance does not necessarily involve reciprocity and should not be confused with recognition. It does not require a response to be made for it to occur; it precedes this stage of communication. Neither does it involve acknowledgement, nor the identification of something as having been previously seen, heard or known. My friends do not necessarily know that they made me happy yesterday (or perhaps someone knows). All this would imply that online resonance is under our control, whereas Jenny and Matthias believe that it relates to ‘out of control’ unconscious communication. This being ‘out of control’ is in line with the complexity of online communication, where learning and connectivity are necessarily unpredictable, surprising and emergent.

Resonance is not about ‘sameness’. Rather it is about one or more ‘similarities’, which may be nonverbal or ‘beyond verbal’. To find like-minded people who just share the same interest we could simply search for a suitable forum or other site. Online resonance is more than this. Online, we are asynchronously situated at our own ends of the communication channel, having the freedom to pick distinct aspects to mentally engage with, interpret them individually and independently of others and then decide whether to react (arguing or affirming) or just skip them. Misunderstandings or talking past each other f2f might go unnoticed or be ignored, leaving the illusion of successful communication. Online we have more freedom to disregard and ignore elements of communication and engage only with resonating elements.

On a personal and social level there are many indicators of online resonance. These often have emotional or affective associations which may be articulated verbally or ‘sparked’ by feelings of empathy, excitement and stimulation evoked by the online message. Some work products of other participants just jump out and grab my attention. Before I know it, I’m connected to something. The resonating post might also fulfill a previously unrecognised gap or need in the reader’s learning/experience leading to new aspirations and stimulating further interest. Or it might not be the content of the post itself that ‘sparks’ the resonance, but rather a secondary topic, such as a mutually shared interest, which is revealed on the online site. Thus the initial resonance on this personal and social level may happen. Online resonance can therefore be thought of as ‘something beyond’ the message content, something non-linear and non-linguistic, which offers the possibility of a ‘glimpse into the mind’ of an online author. Jenny and Matthias used Bottger’s (2005) diagram but I could not find that text any more. Perhaps online resonance is ‘located’ nearer to the recipient’s mind than to the communication channel, said Bottger and I can agree with that. The key indicators of online resonance are associated with beyond verbal eye-catching, filtering and selecting information, on personal and conceptual levels, within the online environment, which should not be confused with conscious information searching activities. Those are easy to follow. Online resonance occurs at the beyond verbal and beyond words level. It is more unconscious than conscious and cannot be controlled, but the online environment does have qualities that allows resonance to occur.

A significant affordance of online resonance is the possibility of sparking new connections. If the idea for one’s own new thinking was not conveyed in the verbal message but via the accompanying components of the resonance phenomenon , then it is reasonable to speak of ‘new’ because it was not articulated. This can be illustrated by the case where an online post might raise the same questions that the reader already has, or where the words alone do not do enough to stimulate interest and only vaguely identify the matter. If the accompanying resonance guarantees that the aspect is of interest to both the reader and the author, but that this has not yet been articulated, then the thinking is ‘new’. But also the stimulation of dissimilar ideas via the similarities involved in resonance. Resonance does not imply a tendency to groupthink or echo chambers but rather the affordance of diverse inspiration resulting from divergent as well as similar ideas.

This process of selection of a resonating idea, whilst most likely to be unconscious and uncontrolled, is supported by the lack of auditory and visual cues within an online environment, which allows for conceptual connections to be more prominent and less influenced by personal and physical attractiveness, appearance, charisma and personality. Resonance happens indirectly rather than directly, just as children’s learning mostly happens.  Online resonance is unconscious, uncontrolled and is most likely to occur in the ‘messy’, ‘vague’ communications between very weak ties. There are skills that online learners rely on to support the likelihood of online resonance occurring. These involve being able to filter and select from a wide range of information, even within one post, if resonance is to occur. The parts of a text that do resonate with someone else are a very significant selection of the entire text because this selection indicates a conceptual connection within someone else’s cognitive network. Online connectivity is as much about inter-conceptual connection as interpersonal connectivity. The potential for conceptual connectivity is increased in contexts where online resonance can flourish, because it occurs at the level of ‘meeting of minds’ free from the distractions of physical and visual cues. It occurs at a ‘beyond verbal’ level. Finally, e-resonance is not about ‘sameness’ but about similarity, which can also support dissimilarity. It is likely to be constrained by strong ties, groupthink and echo chambers. The authors Jenny and Matthias  suggested that further consideration of online resonance and how initial connections are made between online learners will be important in furthering our understanding of online connectivity. The riddle of online resonance remains unsolved, they said. Thanks to them for many sentences which helped me to write this post.

This topic touched my mind when it was published in 2010 and it still does. How could I continue going deeper into the participants’ mind and find answers. ‘Forced consciousness’ is more challenging than ‘forced independence’ but both are needed in autonomous learning. Consciousness can never be forced, independence sometimes is.

I’ve lived in a world of pure in heart people while writing this post. But I can’t help seeing the other way: indoctrination or cunning ways to connect people’s minds into objects which they are selling. I favourited this link “Make an Emotional Connection for Lifelong Customers and Rapid Fans”  in order to remember it – and I got many Twitter followers who presented themselves as marketers. They disappear when I do not follow back. But should I learn something from them? Is it possible to choose the reality in which I want to live?