(TL;DR version: *The internet has its own valuable culture. Those of you who only see online media as a way to promote your projects to people who are wasting time online … please get off my lawn – solicitors aren’t welcome.)
To this audience this idea probably seems like stating the obvious, but I had this moment of clarity while talking to a colleague who works with “diverse” audiences; people working with people of a visibly different culture (skin tone, apparel, socioeconomic class) are careful to learn their audiences needs, but people who suddenly decide social media is important don’t make the same attempt to understand the online audience.
Okay, that was a stupidly long sentence. Nonetheless, think about all the times different employers have created cultural sensitivity programs. Think about all of the concern that goes into keeping track of whether it’s correct to say black or African-American. Think of all of the public events that you scheduled after double checking that it wasn’t a religious holiday (okay maybe not everyone does that one, but I lived in Boston long enough to keep track of the Jewish calendar). In the real world, when we want to engage with diverse audiences, we’ve been taught that we need to take time to understand these diverse audience’s cultures.
But those of us who spend more of our time in virtual environments than in real environments have our own culture too. We speak it memes, and in some cases have our own grammar (“because pants” is a valid statement in my circles), and there’s a shared understanding communicated thru the T-shirts we wear and in the toasts we make (to science!)
I often have people complain to me that the Internet is dumbing down America, that they don’t understand why they should waste their time among people who can’t even bother to write out all the letters in CU L8R, and that the time necessary to become part of the Internet community is time they can’t waste because they have real friends. These same people then ask me, how is it that my programs can be successful online when their best efforts only bring in 10 to 20 people. The difference is that this is my culture and I don’t assume my culture is the culture of idiots wasting their time online. I recognize in the shorthand abbreviations the need to dash off an idea, the need to not irritate carpal tunnel of little bit more today, and the easy slang that is no different than saying bye-bye to a friend. The Internet does have its own dumb corners, but currently so too does the History Channel. And… some of my “real”est friends are people I mostly communicate to through my screen.
I fundamentally don’t understand why it is a waste of time to try and understand Internet cultures but not a waste of time to understand the culture of inner-city kids that are in our classrooms.
If you are going to try and engage online audiences, immerse yourself in our world first. Come to the dark side – we have cookies.