[This blogpost is about online dialogue, however most of the ideas mentioned relate to any form of asynchronous written discussion.]
The complex nature of online dialogue
Engaging in online dialogue is tricky and much harder that you would think. There are a lots hidden pitfalls, and as a result, people are constantly having unsatisfying experiences without realizing why. Before going in to the actual problems in my next blog post, let us briefly examine some potential outcomes of online dialogue.
– The pleasant experience of agreement, sharing and understanding
– New insights in/nuances of the topic
– Solving of a problem / making a good decision
– Improvement in social deliberation skill
– New ideas / spurring creativity
– The negative experience of disagreement and being misunderstood
– The negative experience of being provoked or verbally attacked
– The feeling of unsatisfying result and waste of time
These outcomes are not completely separate from each other, and negative and positive outcomes can often co-exist in the same discussion. There can also be a difference between individual outcomes and the outcomes seen from the group of participants as a whole. To further complicate the understanding; the outcomes exists on a sliding scale and can be present in the discussion to a varying degree. This being said, there is a high likelihood of both negative and positive outcomes from a discussion, especially if it gets long and/or involves a lot of voices. The two last positive outcomes; new ideas, and improvement of social deliberation skill, are often side effects from a successful online dialogue, rather than the intended purpose.
The concept of “winning” and “losing” an argument have to be viewed in this context as well. The quality of the discussion is measured against its positive and negative outcomes. If someone proves you wrong on some point, generally considered losing the argument, and you’re able to mitigate your negative feelings, you have actually “won” by achieving new insights of the topic.