“The difference between a community and a network is that you belong to a community, but a network belongs to you. You feel in control. You can add friends if you wish, you can delete them if you wish. You are in control of the important people to whom you relate. People feel a little better as a result, because loneliness, abandonment, is the great fear in our individualist age. But it’s so easy to add or remove friends on the internet that people fail to learn the real social skills, which you need when you go to the street, when you go to your workplace, where you find lots of people who you need to enter into sensible interaction with. Pope Francis, who is a great man, gave his first interview after being elected to Eugenio Scalfari, an Italian journalist who is also a self-proclaimed atheist. It was a sign: real dialogue isn’t about talking to people who believe the same things as you. Social media don’t teach us to dialogue because it is so easy to avoid controversy… But most people use social media not to unite, not to open their horizons wider, but on the contrary, to cut themselves a comfort zone where the only sounds they hear are the echoes of their own voice, where the only things they see are the reflections of their own face. Social media are very useful, they provide pleasure, but they are a trap.” – Zygmunt Bauman
I would rather say that social media can be a trap, but are not by their nature an inevitable one. Social media don’t teach us anything. We have to teach ourselves how to use social media. For the first time in history, 3 billion people are connected to each other. Is this a trap or an unrealized opportunity?
The gap between social media and our real work can be a deep moat. We entertain ourselves with social media during our free time while many of our workplaces block access to consumer social media sites. Connecting social media to our daily lives can be enriching, if we have the skills and tools to filter, create, and discern how to share what is appropriate. Using social media to open our horizons takes effort and practice.
In order to help us make sense and use our networks to our fullest we need to engage in communities of practice, online and offline. This third-space, between loose social networks and focused work groups, is an essential place in which to test new ideas and learn with peers. Real communities of practice are difficult to find but they give us the feedback we would not get in a social network and they don’t bring the hierarchy of the workplace to bear. In communities we can be open to feedback and criticism, not face outrage from a stranger on social media, nor be forced to hold our tongue in the workplace.
For both individuals and organizations, communities of practice can connect work and learning. Communities of practice can bridge the gap between innovation and getting work done. People can seek new contacts in their social networks, and over time (filtering), some of these can become co-members in communities of practice. Communities of practice help to inform our work and life, with some of our learning and observations creating new ideas or practices. We can then share these new ideas with our communities, discerning who and how to share with, at the appropriate times. For instance, we may share a new practice first with a professional community of practice before publishing it to our general social networks.
A key part of the practice of PKM is connecting our networks, our communities, our work, and our lives together in order to make sense, be more productive, and open ourselves to serendipity. It’s a holistic approach, not one that compartmentalizes work and life, or social media and communities, but something that helps us to make sense of the whole messy, complex world we live in. Communities can connect work and learning and ensure that social media are not a trap but an opportunity for humanity.