Sunday, May 21, 2006

Syndicate Conference: Where to Go, Who To Know

For those interested in the recent Syndicate conference in NYC, Renee Blodgett, marketer extrordinaire, has written it up on her blog.

When Renee says she wants to "bring passion to technlogy, business and life," it's not false advertising. I attended her party and recommend Renee's events to anyone looking to learn something, meet fascinating people across fields, and have a great time.

PDF Conference: A Thought on the Politics of/in Communciations

This week, I attended the Personal Democracy Forum (PDF) conference at the CUNY graduate center in midtown.

Last year, the shining light was Doc Searls. For those who are unfamiliar with celebrity technorati, Doc is passionate enough to make ideas contagious, even to the those immune to any sort of new interest. Doc is brilliant, quicksilver thinker, avoids jargon, and communicates effectively with multimedia. Add the actual content of the talks -- insights on connections between interpretation and technology -- and there are few I'd rather be in a room with than Doc.

The Continuing War Between the States: The Reds Hands Down Over Blue

PDF's conference focuses on the ways in which campaigns and individuals work online to promote a political agenda. The politics can be local, national, or international -- progressive or conservative.

At this year's PDF conference, the small number of conservatives who attended was highly notable. But the progressives? Not so much. Eliot Spitzer lit up the room. Everyone else who was concise, focused, compelling, and articulate worked for Republican campaigns. Elizabeth Edwards was well-spoken, appealing, very smart, and genuine, but she didn't have same edge as Spitzer and the aforesaid Red State representatives.

Especially on panels, the conservatives took the room by storm. It's this edge -- a combination of focus, engagement, and brains -- that makes a speaker thrilling rather than simply worth hearing.

Beyond Politics: How to Engage A Listener

Effective public speaking is too large a topic to address completely in one post. However, the rules of thumb follow the same theory as effective classroom teaching -- or what is called effective "Thought Leadership" (a term that still resonates with Orwellian overtones for me, despite eight years in corporate America).

--Articulate a clear point of view -- or points of view -- and be guided by insight rather than information per se.

--Generate passion about the topic for yourself, and it will spread to your audience.

--Listen. Listen to what is being said as well as what you say and the dynamic created by the conversation. Focus on connecting. Don't dismiss anything easily.

Natural stage presence helps, but it's not enough. Charisma can also be constructed by following these steps.

Why Do So Many Find This So Difficult?

I have my own thoughts on this, but I'm interested in feedback here. Any ideas?

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Other Bloggers on GEL: Take a Look

There's so much more to say about the GELconference, but I'm out of time. Next week, on to how technology is changing politics from the Personal Democracy Forum.

So -- for other information and perspectives, please see postings by such as Khoi Vinh, design bureau chief (and a second on Day 1 Events), Sarah Endling, Steve Sherlock, Kareem Mayan (a slideshow), Christopher Herot, Steve Hoffman, Lisa Sulgit

Talking Back at Advertisers: The Bubble Project

Continuing from the last post, although the actual theme was "Hidden Potential," the issue of community was equally present in everyone's talk.

Ji Lee's Bubble Project provides an excellent example.

How It Started

Lee began as an art director at an international advertising agency. He left because of a growing frustration with priorities among executives that made new ideas almost impossible to implement.

Lee was working on Cheerios campaign for which he and a copyrighter needed a tag line that both pointed to the cereal's trademark yellow box while lauding the value of new flavors, each packaged in a different color.

The tagline: Only the holes taste the same.

At first, everyone loved it. Then an argument over the difference between "taste" and flavor" ensued, and the campaign was canned.

Lee moved on to greener pastures.

Corporate Monologue to Public Dialogue

Lee wanted to find a way to disrupt what he calls the corporate monologue that prevents customers from actively engaging with advertising. Rather than passive recipients of messages, Lee wanted to enable consumers to be active participants in a conversation.

From the Grime, Bubbles Emerge

Lee spent $3,000 printing out the kind of bubbles in which cartoon characters speak. He then began posting them on ads throughout New York City. A few times, he was fined by the police (Lee suggested not to try this in the subway), but he was not deterred.

Lee left the bubbles blank, and passers-by began to interact with ads (meant only for broadcast in one direction) and create engaged commentary (by writing in the bubbles advertisers never meant to include).

Lee then went back to photograph the transformations. He found that interaction fell into a few categories, some of which overlapped: social commentary, sex and drugs, art and philosophy, politics and religion, and media and fashion.

And So?

If corporate advertising creates products based on a fantasy of passive recipients, there is now excellent evidence that their markets do not buy their lines as written. It's not just technology and the Web that makes this true. Clearly, frustrated consumers, bombarded and patronized with broadcasts, grab even the lowest tech options to show they're not buying corporate monologues.

Sometimes even two or three comments could be found in a single bubble. Community can grow anywhere, asynchronously if necessary.

Businesses Beware

If GEL produced one message for business leaders, it is that they reexamine their assumptions about their customers. Rather than asking them to listen to you, give your customers the floor and see what they have to say. You might learn something.

Mapping Knowledge: Poetry in Aid of Science and Business

Before moving on to the main body of this missive, my good friend, Dean Landsman, kindly pointed out that the GEL posts have not been up to what he calls my usual standard of writing. He said so out of concern, and so please allow me to apologize here for any awkward sentence construction -- these are all first drafts with quick spell checks. I regret any lack of grace. I'm posting as quickly as I can get the words down.

And now back to our regularly scheduled program.

The History of Maps: Both a Means and Result of Discovery

Katy Börner, another inspirational speaker at GEL, explained her passion for finding patterns within and among large data sets and mapping the results.

Sound dry? In fact, the highly interpretive nature of the work -- how to create connections among siloed ideas to create an intuitive and yet accurate picture of existing knowledge -- demonstrates the importance of art in scientific innovation.

Börner began by discussing the history of science maps in relation to their geographical equivalents. Each map represents a vision of information and priorities based -- sometimes quite shamelessly -- on a particular mapmaker's perspective.

Mapping Science

Within the field of science, Börner includes the fields of math, physics, biology, chemistry, social sciences, and so on. Each domain of discovery (in this case, science) is distinct from the others often in language/jargon, resources, personnel, education, economic market, academic discipline, and often geography.

The questions Börner asks: how can we make use of what we know collectively so that we don't have to repeatedly reinvent the wheel? What would a map of knowledge look like that illustrated density (both overlap of ideas and outliers), detail (which can be got from search engines), and a big picture? What sort of metaphors would be appropriate?

Once You Build It?

Börner's work has application for every knowledge domain. Since the late eighteenth-century, Western thought has been increasingly relegated to distinct disciplines whose value, to a large extent, is predicated on its difference from other fields. Education follows a with increasingly specialized disciplines of interpretation to prepare practioners for their increasingly narrowing fields.

As Börner mentioned, as technology develops, it's increasingly difficult to keep up with the discovery and dissemination of knowledge. Furthermore, the ability of one field to publish more quickly than others creates a political imbalance among those in the business of research and discovery.

Learning: By Way of Example

With so much noise, and so few interpreters among fields, knowledge and learning processes are repeatedly redefined by practioners of psychology, biology, higher education, by secondary education, primary education, corporate training, new age systems, self-help industries, and so on.

In fact, the overlaps are often more salient than the differences, although the salaries for each field don't reflect it. Often, for example, corporate trainers spend a great deal of energy reminding adults that communication skills differ among individuals according to background, expectations, gender, culture, etc. How much more do they earn than Kindergarten teachers who spend much of their time on the same theme?

As I mentioned early on, this blog was born from my own frustration over the way in which education is handled. Three years of research demonstrates that across fields, most professionals agree on the components of effective thinking. However, practioners and researchers of learning, creativity, and education rarely acknowledge each other's accomplishments in a way that encourages further exploration of similarities. The economics and politics of celebrity discourage anything else.

What if overlaps among fields became a priority, and we mapped everything that is currently known about the way the mind processes information? What if everyone across age groups and fields worked from that map?

What if all fields were mapped across topics and discoveries?

More on GEL in the next post.

More on Börner's Work

Learn more about Börner's work at her website and get in touch if you have ideas about appropriate metaphors with which to map scientific knowledge. She also asked me to add that she and her colleagues sell maps and a video. All money goes towards the design and manufacture of (puzzle) maps of science to be donated to schools around the globe.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Discerning Trends: Attention Must Be Paid

To continue from the last post on the remarkable innovators present at GEL this year, here are my notes on Linda Stone's presentation. Much of this post comprises Stone's own words, even when not in quotes. I just can't write fast enough to keep up.

Attention Must Be Paid

Linda Stone follows trends. She looks at cycles of the human spirit, how we develop, and how these and other factors relate to our attention. Stone calls the point at which desire meets a new product the "sweet spot" because the gap between where we are and where we want to be defines what we become.

Stone's interest is the point at which human desire meets technology and how we use our attention there. She says we're at the end of a trend she calls "continuous partial attention" and are in the process of creating another trend in reaction against it.

Continuous Partial Attention: Different from Multi-Tasking

Multi-tasking, a tendency Stone dates as a trend from 1965-1985, became a trend whose goal was productivity. On the other hand, continuous partial attention, which began around 1985, is motivated by an obsession with being part of the network. The goal of multi-tasking is productivity; the heart of continuous partial attention is the desire not to miss anything.

Our Attention to Experience and the Resulting Quality

Stone says we've spent 20 years attempting to stretch human bandwidth to match that of technology. We've kept one item at the top-of-mind while scanning everything else we can reach. The constant communication and continuous partial attention has resulted in a sense of constant crisis. She says, "We're so accessible that we're inaccessible. We have so much power through technology that we feel powerless."

Stone said that the life of innovation, just like the life of anything else, requires different seasons to be sustainable and successful. Innovation relies on attention -- on consideration -- and Stone classifies it as an activity for the winter of a cycle. It's necessary to be inactive and to ruminate.

A New Trend: It's Here, Get Used to It

Stone says that after twenty years of welcoming and producing a bombardment of information and indiscriminate connections, we now want protecting and meaningful relationship. She says that our habits of attention are going from scanning to discernment, from thinking "what have we got to gain" to "what have we got to lose." We now want a filter and messages of meaning, belonging, and trust.

Stone gave an to illustrate the point: embracing every opportunity produces an Enron, while discerning among opportunities produces Apple's iPod.

And So . . .
What should you look for when choosing experiences for your customers, employees, and yourself? There will be an increasing call to enhance quality of life and ways of using our attention that are useful and comfortable.

Stone calls this the shift from knowledge workers to wisdom providers, and it's already begun.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Pervasive Games and Innovation: Jane McGonical

Continuing from the last post at GEL, Jane McGonigal spoke inspiringly about creating very radically unlikely connections in order to see things new. I will reproduce my notes here as faithfully as I can, and much of it includes Jane's own words. I wrote as quickly as I could and for more information, go straight to the source.

Play and Insight

McGonical calls her work pervasive game design, the goal of which is to create alternative social experiences around everyday spaces. It's a little like site-specific theater, but the participants have not met and follow rules rather than a script.

Why Alternative Experiences? Why Everyday Spaces?

McGonigal is bothered by the wasted opportunity for interaction and engagement. Her goal is to connect play with real life by designing experiences around crosswalks, airports, bookstores, public payphones -- all the spaces in which automatic behavior is the norm. McGonigal uses games because they make it feel safe to behave in new ways, to escape from habit, and most important, to see new possibilities of engagement, both with the space and with others.

McGonigal builds some of these outdoor experiences in conjunction with computer games in order to extend the play and online community into the world off the monitor. The example a space into which she would breathe new life seemed both figuratively and literally impossible: for this exercise, McGonigal chose cemeteries. How could one change the public's view of playing in a graveyard?

Wonder Before Insight: Questions First

Before moving on to design the cemetery game, McGonigal asked a series of questions:

--What is the history of social use of spaces?
--What are the universal physical affordances of spaces?
--Does she have any personal alternative experiences/investment in the space?
--What are the most likely obstacles to new experience in that space?

The result was a game called Tombstone Holdem. More on its how it was developed -- and how it relates to business -- in the next post.

Tombstone Holdem': Playing Among the Graves

Continuing from the last post on Jane McGonigal's pervasive game design, how does one find a way to breathe new life into graveyards? I'll give you a taste of the process here -- but I encourage you to find out more from the designer herself.

So What About Cemetaries?

Following the questions prioritized in the last post, McGonigal first looked at the history of graveyards in the US. She found that as recently as the early 20th century, cemeteries were considered places of recreation. Around New York City, communities wooed, strolled, and had picnics at Mount Auburn because it offered a large, quiet, green piece of land away from urban life. In fact, says McGonigal, cemeteries continue to fall under the authority of Parks and Recreation Departments.

As for personal history, McGonigal herself attended a Quaker school whose area for recess was a cemetery. She has fond memories of playing there as well.

The Game Becomes a Cause

McGonigal became firmer in her resolve to discover and popularize new perspectives on her subject when she realized that cemeteries are disappearing at an alarming rate. Very few people visit a grave after attending the burial, and open tracts of land, particularly near cities, have become rare and valuable. Furthermore, vandalism has increased due to the low numbers who visit. These combined factors have allowed developers to obtain permission to build on top of them.

Gambling With Perspective

The result of McGonigal's efforts is a game called Tombstone Holden'. It was designed as a real-life extension of an Old West computer game. McGonigal liked the idea of building face-to-face community around a graveyard for this group. She felt it would interrupt the inevitable desensitization of those who sit at computers all day shooting people.

Consequently the tag line is "You killed them. Now go pay your respects."

How to Play Among the Dead and Still Be Respectful?

One of the many remarkable things about McGonigal's thinking is that she considers builds each move around several perspectives that often seem to conflict. For example, she wanted to honor both manners of using the space; playing a game as well as mourning the dead. She created cards that could be printed out from the site with both the structure and rules of the game. This way, if a mourner were distressed or distracted, a player could explain the game easily using the prop rather than struggling for an on-the-spot answer. The game players could identify each other by the one flower each brought to the gathering.

The day was a huge success, in several cities, and can be reproduced anywhere there is a cemetery standing. For the rules -- or to start a game in your city -- get in touch with McGonigal and visit her site site.

Possibilities for Play by Seeing Things New

McGonigal summed up by talking about all the behaviors and events we pass every day without engaging and without thought of play. She threw down a sort of gauntlet in conclusion: Once you've played a McGongical game, you will become the kind of person who answers a ringing payphone.

Applications for Business

Because thinking is associative, imagine the applications for business strategy. If the elements of stimulus and response are limited to a familiar pool of options, it is impossible to make new connections. On the other hand, the more often we find new ways to interact with each other and the environment, the more likely we are to innovative.

To participate in a conference dedicated to these principles, check out Serious Games in Berkeley.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Man With No Last Name: Craig (Newmark) of Craig's List

Continuing from the last post, here's more on the speakers at last week's GEL conference.

Craig and His List(s)

For those of you who have been in areas with no electricity for a few years, Craig Newmark is the founder of Craigslist, a community communication tool available in an increasing number of cities around the country and the world.

Pick a city and find whatever you're looking for -- a place to live, a job, something to buy, somewhere to sell -- you name it, it's covered.

Craig admits that the system is low tech -- as he put it, if the rest of the world currently is deep into Web 2.0, Craigslists' sites can be found somewhere around at 0.1. This is turns out to be a feature rather than a bug -- the accessibility allows anyone who can type to participate and has helped communities grow quickly.

Craiglist's Premise

Craig believes that people are basically trustworthy and good. He also believes that people share common values -- first and foremost, it's a universal desire to treat others in the way they would like to be treated themselves. Craig points out that these are "the real core values," not those preached from political platforms.

The Strategy

From this premise, he has build sites that are user-driven rather than under his control and allowed the size of the communities to grow beyond the ability of any central monitoring system.

Instead, users monitor their own communities. If something doesn't belong on the site, users can flag them for deletion. If enough people flag the same item, it's deleted automatically.

Craig says that "somehow from being good guys," he and his colleagues have created a culture of trust.

But Does It Work?

Most people who have used Craig's List have a good story to tell. Like other people I know who've used the list, Craig said he feels great when he hears that someone lost an iPod on a train to Boston and it was returned through contact through the system. He also spoke of a volunteer in New York who screens all apartment brokers to make the list reliable -- and who loves doing it. Craig repeatedly finds that people like to use their power for good wherever they can.

Scalability: Hurricane Katrina

Craig then offered an example of what's possible on a bigger scale in the events that followed Katrina. In very little time, users repurposed the site to help victims find their friends and families. Not long after, people started offering jobs and housing for the victims, and when Craigslist employees heard about the exodus to Baton Rouge, they put up a site for the city on their own.

Radical Reassessment of Messaging: Marketing through Community
Most of what Craig said was surprisingly persuasive when it came to the good in people. It's one thing to have a belief system predicated on faith in humanity and quite another to build a successful business model around it.

The First Principle of Community (and marketing): Discover What's Needed

The question Craigslist raises for me is: how can you apply the same principles from personal needs to those of business? That will be the stuff of another post -- please get back to me if you've had thoughts on this.

Craig wrapped up by saying, "If you want to speak truth to power, you'd better make them laugh -- or they'll kill you."

Let's see what happens to Monsieur Colbert.

More on GEL in the next post.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Urban Legibility: Shining Light on New Perspectives

Continuing from the last post, the GEL conference featured an unusual combination of speakers for a business meeting.

Crossing Disciplines to See Things New

Why and how is GEL unusual? Mark Hurst, the conference's founder, breaks down the usual "us vs. them" assumptions on which gathering of business professionals are usually built. Most conferences ask the question: How can WE (businesses) get more money from THEM (individual customers or entire markets)?

What's the Alternative?

Hurst unites customer experience in a value recognizable to both business people and those on whom they make their living by inviting attendees to explore assumptions about everything -- competition, marketing, business, brand, community, investment, risk, and so on. In other words, GEL asks attendees to redefine value as a concept as well as in its particulars.

The Theme: Hidden Potential

The conference’s theme was hidden potential Hurst used the opportunity to invite speakers across disciplines and put their ideas side by side. It was an unusual opportunity to see the values of each discipline in a new perspective based on their connections to others one would not ordinarily consider.

Hidden Potential as a Theme: Shining Light on Hidden Value

Leni Shwendinger is a conceptual and visual artist who is fascinated with the legibility of cities at night. According to Shwendinger, the nighttime city loses much of its daytime accessibility and its potential is usually neglected.

Leni spoke on the hidden potential of cities and used as an example her project Glasgow involving the Kingston Bridge.

Shwendinger began by demonstrating the degree to which the bridge is "unlovely." On top of the bridge, those in cars daily suffered noise, smog, and regular traffic. Because of commuter delays, the bridge also had become an annoyance, something to be avoided if possible.

The bridge was also ugly to look at from the side. A tacky faux exterior hid a hollow space from the side view. Shwendinger approached her research -- both primary and secondary -- wondering what beauty she could bring out under these circumstances. She wanted to find some hidden value in the bridge and demonstrate the relationship to that of the city and to the individuals who live there.

Urban Blight Hides Quiet Spaces

Below the bridge, Shwendinger found inspiration in the "perspectival grandeur" of the underside's scale and shape, the river Clyde flowing powerfully beneath, and the sky that could be seen through the spaces above.

With the help of a traffic expert, architects, and others, Shwendinger designed a grid with colors that marked the level of traffic flow as it changed. She used the same grid measurements to articulate the flow of the river and the spot in which it turned. Computer equipment in nearby boxes tracked the changes, and, finally, each data set was combined with the other to create color combinations that illustrated the relationship.

In this way, colors were selected and projected onto the bridge at night.

Transformed Perspective

The art piece transformed the city's perspective on the Kingston Bridge in several ways.

First, the lights drew attention to the relationship between the bridge and the river. The noise and smell of the traffic found a quiet contrast in the naturally powerful water beneath it. Both the bridge and river are urban landmarks with similar functions. Less than a century ago, it was the river that carried goods and people up and down the country. In terms of Scottish history, the change was relatively recent, and the connection is meaningful. And it was all done visually with light.

But Wait, There's (Always) More

Perhaps most obviously, when night fell, the bridge was transformed from eyesore to stunning color. However, the palate was functional as well as beautiful. Each shade, derived the algorithms of flows from traffic and the river, offered information about traffic patterns at every point in the bridge and the Clyde's movement as well. The measurements changed every five minutes to keep them accurate and useful for those who approached.

Transforming Blight Through Light
Last, the reflection of the lights on the water connected the natural world to that of the man-made in this urban environment. The space under the bridge became transformed into a place one wanted to be instead of a place to be avoided.

We were all left to wonder: what other ideas whose value has long been dismissed could be reclaimed with a little thought and insight.

More on GEL speakers in the next post.

Monday, May 08, 2006

The GEL Conference: Defining a "Good Experience" in Business and Elsewhere

The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed. -- C.G. Jung

I hadn't heard of the GEL conference until a friend, Dawn Barber, told me she was up to her neck in planning two weeks ago. Volunteering to help was one of the best decisions I've ever made.

Have you ever been to a meeting where you laughed for almost the whole day? Or one where not only wasn't a single speaker dull and kept you on the edge of your seat?

This sort of experience might be old hat for some, but GEL was my first. Over the next few posts, I'll share some of the high points I managed to capture for those who couldn't attend.

First Things First: What is GEL?

GEL (Good Experience Live) is a yearly conference that prioritizes, explores, and attempts to define the nature of a good experience. The meeting was invented by a consulting company called Creative Good as part of a weeklong business meeting with selected companies. This year's theme was hidden potential.

The meeting represented people with a wider range of backgrounds and skills than I'd ever seen in one room. Just to name a few, I met dancers, programmers, visual artists, jugglers, entrepreneurs, managers from large corporations, teachers, and a lexicographer.

The only thing this crowd seemed to have in common is a passion for innovation and the willingness to jump into the unknown and swim around there for a while.

Conference Highlights

The first speaker was Doug Rushkoff, and I missed most of his talk. Fortunately, however, I was there for at least some of it.

Ruskoff's overall point seemed to be that companies need to start making decisions primarily based on customer experience. When I sat down, Rushkoff was in the process of suggesting that customers know more about products than employees or their managers.

Employees as Passionate Experts: Customers as Amateur Employees

Overall, Rushkoff suggested that a successful company is one in which the employees are passionate experts about their product. He went on to say that companies like Adobe create online environments in which customers can play around with a tool. In this way, customers become amateur employees. In other words, customers see the employees as experts, and they want the information they've got.

Rushkoff offered told another story, this time about the success of a shoe company in Seattle. The designs are so admired that customers sent in their own designs to a contest not to win but because they wanted to become a part of the company's culture. They wanted to get feedback on their own work and learn from a master they admired.

Examples of Failure

To start with models of failure to base decisions on customer experience, Rushkoff gave the example of Volkswagen bugs. Customers loved them, but the company decided to start making cars that were un-Volkswagon-like instead. What did customers do? They went out and bought minis. How did Volkswagen respond? They hired the Mini's advertising agency. Instead, they should have brought back the product everyone wanted.

Rushkoff gave an example of a slightly different kind of failure in a company that used Paris Hilton in a bathing suit to advertise its product online. The company wanted to create a buzz -- and it worked. More visitors logged on to the site than ever before.

However, despite the enormous number of attention, the company did less business in those two weeks than at any other time of the year. Sure, there are plenty of people who will log on to see Paris Hilton's breasts, Rushkoff said, but viral marketing for its own sake is not going to help sales.

And So . . .

Rushkoff persuasively argued that the hidden potential in most businesses is the possibility of creating good experiences and personal investment of both employees and customers.

More highlights from GEL speakers in future posts -- as good experiences go at conference, this one is at the top of the list, regardless of your field.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

More on Listening Online: How Technology Offers Business Insights

Continuing from the last post, I had a lesson online on how a pair of technological tools can teach you to be a better listener, and ultimately, a better thinker.

John Smith, a very smart collaborative strategist, offered to show me the value of online communication with two tools: the telephone and a chat screen (in this case, Skype).

Skeptical From the Start

My theater background demonstrated that most productions claiming mixed-media were not -- more several individual mediums working side by side with only the thinest excuse of a relationship to each other. Having never liked online synchronous communication much (IM, Chat, etc.), I was also dubious. Furthermore, John and I knew each other only through two brief email used to set up a phone meeting. There were no expectations, I'm sure, on either of our parts.

Despite long-held doubts, the conversation showed me the unique value of mixed media for communication. I was floored by the possibilities.

The Set Up

John asked me on the phone to open a chat window in Skype. He then said he'd take notes in the window and that I should, too. The plan was to save the material and refer to it after the call if we were so inclined.

The first exercise was introducing ourselves. John began jotted down phrases or words that represented concepts or experiences I felt have been important in my work, and they would appear in the window with a "whoosh" one at a time. After an intitial sefl-consciousness, I appreciated the attention he paid. From his notes, I felt heard in a way that is not clear when one is just on the phone.

I also heard what John said differently. I saw clearly what he found interesting, important, worth going back to later. I also saw what he didn't note -- and I'd test whether the reason was he didn't understand the concept, had preconceived notions about language and dismissed it, or whether it was old hat to him already. I did this by repeating what I meant in different ways and contexts and immediately saw from the relationship between what he said on the phone and screen where he was in our conversation.

Seeing Things New By Hearing Them, Too

Just to play, I took notes on John's ideas as well. We shared urls by writing them down in the window, one tangent led to another, and without notice, we were collaborating by asking each other questions about -- or giving perspective to -- preconceptions or blocks we had in our thinking process.

By the end of the call, I felt intimate with the thinking process of this total stranger. Granted, there were a lot of clues -- for example, John's vocabulary demonstrated a strong academic orientation. As an ex-academic, that told me a lot about the level of abstraction and paradigms in which he considers his work.

Because he used the word improv quite a bit with little qualification, I understood that he had used the word for a long time. When I asked if he had a theater background and he said no, I understood from his notes the assumptions he held about the practice. Because I am a theater practioner, I could flesh it out for him as he could flesh out for me the variety of ways in which online media have been used.

Conversation Becomes Collaboration

In short, we both learned from each other and created something new in our chat screen. I understood how an individual medium has unique benefits but except for people with particular proclivities, probably isn't enough to create a sense of connection. However, depending on the individual, some combination of media could enhance relationship, discussion, creative problem-solving, whatever -- even with a total stranger.

Why Cameras are Deceptive

One would think that the camera would be the strongest tool. After all there is a sense that photographic images have a transparent relationship to meaning. In other words, if you can see behavior or expressions photographically, you immediately understand what they means. Unfortunately, this is a too common case of confusing data (raw material) with analysis (the value or meaning of the data).

In addition, seeing someone's face is a habit in communication that carries assumptions from the off-line world.

The remarkable thing about new communication tools -- when used thoughtfully -- is that they force us to see and hear everything in new ways as we adjust to an unfamiliar communication process. We need to find our way -- and that destroys assumptions as we search in what we acknowledge as unknown territory.