Sunday, October 10, 2004

Personal History on the use of Internet, & social software

Actual Event Date: 13 Sept 2004

Interview session in the Dave Wiley's office

D: David Wiley [typing away on his mac, while listening to Metallica]

B: Bing-Howe [sitting crossed legs, with cigar in one hand, booze in the other]

D: So, let's begin. Tell me when did you first start using the internet?

A: back in 1994. But I stopped soon after I used it. Simply because I thought it was not cool to be following the crowd. And I did not want to be seen as a geek back then at university. I was pretty silly then.

D: Who introduced you to it?

A: actually no one. I overheard some people talk about it, and got curious to try it out. I was reading traditional newspapers then, and survived very well without computers and internet for 17 years. None of my friends were techno geeks, so I was on my own. I read about how the internet started with ARPANET, and that one of the 4 original nodes were in Utah . Little did I expect to be here 10 years later.

In USU, I learnt about blogs & wikis and ended up teaching that same topic to faculty, staff, students back home at NTU [ link to workshops@CED ]. I was surprised how far ahead in US blogging scene was compared to back home.

D: How did your skills develop after learning the existence of the Internet & social software?

A: Lots of informal learning. I took many formal training courses on web design for example, and ended up learning less than I would if I were sourcing out information myself.

I take ‘Social software' to mean any digital medium that allows people to interact with each other via the internet, regardless if they are using voice, video, text, smell, mind control, etc.

When I found email, it was just the right time in my life. Because it became a more efficient way in which I could communicate with my friends from overseas. The internet for me was 99% social. The ease of using email & MSN made staying in contact easy. But I miss receiving snail mail like post cards, and love letters. :)

Through MSN, I keep myself in contact with my closer friends. Until they find me so bothersome that they put me on their ‘block' list. It still excites me to see a familiar face through a webcam knowing that the recipient is on the other side of the globe!

D: How has the internet impacted your life, professionally and socially?

A: I learnt so much from the internet. It has become a form of addiction really. Everyday I have to check my emails, and read news through the internet.

Professionally, the internet has allowed me to work with people from different parts of the world. Even as I do my post grad at USU in Logan , I am working with people in Singapore , New York , etc. They help pay my rent, and give me invaluable working experience. Through the use of blogs, I get to read (via RSS) what my peers are doing and the latest happenings in the field. However, I maintain my own blog, not for the purpose of discussion and discourse with peers, but mostly as a self-reflection medium. But I keep comments open should anyone want to comment.

Socially, the people I know have expanded. [ See pic link ]. That pic shows my e-mail contact list sorted out according to country folders. Due to my past travel experiences, I got to know many people from different cultures, and the internet was the ‘glue' that kept us in contact. My fav story: I once received a request to help someone (whom I never knew before) from overseas via email. That person simply needed housing at Utah State University , and I did what I could to help. From there, I would never expect that person to slowly become one of my most trusted friends in life. So, the internet is pretty cool.

D: You know you are copying my style don't you? And it will cost you a grade.

A: Hey, when has grade gotten control over me? I may need credits, but knock yourself out with grading. :) Like Merrill said, ‘don't let education get in the way of your learning'


Dave asked a series of simple but intriguing questions to start off this course:

  1. When did you first start using the internet?

  2. Who introduced you to it?

  3. How did your skills develop after learning the existence of the Internet & social software?

  4. How has the internet impacted your life, professionally and socially?

As I read through this week's recommended readings on ‘ history of internet & social software ', I tried to think about how the internet affected me over the last few years. It was surprisingly difficult. The problem was that I had grown so comfortable with this internet medium that I almost forgot when it was when I started using it. Dwelling deep into my memories, I recall my junior college days (I was 17 yrs old then) back in 1994. The internet had already made a brash entrance into many of my friends' lives. But I stupidly took great pride in resisting the trend of joining the internet bandwagon. I actually thought that it was quite an achievement for me to get through university without much of internet, and relying solely on a few computer programs like MS Excel, Word, and SPSS.

Fast forward to 2000. I hit the work force, and suddenly I was thrust into a scenario where I was expected to know all the stuff on the internet. I was the young guy in the company, so they all came to me on technology issues – which were not even in my job description! Not wanting to look incompetent to my colleagues and bosses, I embarked on a crash course in IT, internet was just one of many other sub-topics.

The nature of my job allowed me to sign up for technology courses, and I took full advantage of the opportunity. However, in looking back, I see now how most of my learning was done informally. I learnt more from ‘playing around' with programs, and looking for information from the web, and asking more knowledgeable friends than any of the IT courses I attended. Maybe it was because the IT instructors were just reading from a textbook and could not answer questions beyond the scope of the text. But that was the seed from which I wanted to learn more about ‘effective instruction'.

The story of how researchers from ARPA were using ARPANET to collaborate on projects, trade notes, gossip & schmooze was the first sign of a Virtual Community of Practice (VCoP) at work. During my brief internship with CED I too noticed how colleagues were using emails and instant messaging via MSN or even hand phone sms to communicate. And they were just next door to one another!

During that time, I was also approached by a bunch of librarians to start a project to build online communities who visit their library at SP . One for professional librarians, another exclusively for students. So, I went down to SP and gave a workshop of blogs and wikis as the social software that will help them build their VCoP. Workshop went great, everyone loved it. Set up the blog for them. 1 week later, zero adoption rate. What went wrong? That's for another post later on….

But I want to close by saying that having easy to use social software does not guarantee that communication and building of a community will result. I learnt it the hard way.



“Have you talked to your best friend recently?”


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