Archive for October, 2009

On the backchannel, netiquette, and jumping in…

Posted in eci831 with tags , on October 14, 2009 by onepercentyellow

I’m on my way back to China in 14 days.  I lived there previously, teaching in Jilin and Shanghai for 2 years and in Changwon, South Korea for 2 years.  That’s 4 years away from Canada for those who are counting.  When I first arrived in Asia, I remember being overwhelmed by the flashing lights, fast cars, and crushing number of people.  I couldn’t order food; I didn’t know where anything was; I was afraid to leave the house and get lost.  Awkwardly throwing myself into life in my new home, I came to understand how each of these cities worked and how I could function politely in each culture.

After the October 6th ECI831 class with Sue Walters, I realized that my recent foray into digital life has been riddled with discourteous conduct and inappropriate commentary.  My examination of my list of faux pas was confirmed by Allison Treble’s post where I recognized myself as one of the backchannel babblers in one of the September classes.  By the following week “no one reinforced the undesired behaviour [and] it was extinguished.”   Just as it took time for me to learn to pour drinks for all my Korean seniors, or that it’s common to be taken by the arm to cross the Shanghai street, it have needed a few social blunders to awaken me to the world of netiquette.

I’m drawn again to the class that Allison mentioned in her post.  The backchannel that night was like being in a classroom where everyone is talking and you must listen to everything.  With no filter moderating the important comments from the background chatter, it was easy to get lost in trying to follow the flicking snippets of conversation.  Again, it reminded me of the filter failure I experienced upon my return to Canada.  After 4 years in a cone of silence where no advertizing, no cultural norms, and none of the language was actually meant for me, being a local again felt like every single message was directed squarely at me!  I had spent so long opening my filtering systems to pick up even the slightest hint of an English word or a Canadian reference that local reality seemed to be SCREAMING at me.  I caught myself staring at people having private conversations, not able to filter out those messages not meant for me.  Watching TV was terrible!  While everyone else in the room was able to ignore the advertizing I was caught entranced by the talking English box in the corner of the room.

This digital world, while unique, still has parallels to the analogue world (thanks @plind for the terminology…. Now you’ll have to do a post!).  There’s a culture, norms and morays, and consequences for acting out.  While I am still an outsider, I am feeling drawn into the community and wish to present myself as a useful and contributing member.  And just like when I first stepped off the plane in Pusan, there’s nothing left to do but jump in!

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