Serendipitous Cyberspaces

Renee Hopkins's picture
Chat Date: 
Thu, May 03, 2012

This week @sysparatem will be our guest host, leading a chat on a favorite topic of mine: serendipity. Here is his framing post: 

Reviewing some of the stack of material that has been produced on the creation of environments and innovation it struck me that a lot of the commentary is on cyberspace interaction as an additive component. There is quite a lot of commentary on physical environments and the qualities which can help innovation. Generally this tends to focus on removing barriers between people communicating and increasing opportunities for different people to bump into each other.

There is also quite a lot of stress on the importance of face-to-face meeting, body language, eye contact etc. One item I read extolled the virtues of whiteboarding and brainstorming. All these points are interesting observations on the positive qualities of physical proximity and architecture.

But -- are we at risk of missing the significance of cyberspace qualities by measuring the potential effectiveness of cyberspace environments against factors we see as important in physical environments?

While aspects of physical environments can be enhanced to increase the potential for serendipitous interactions in company environments they don't (usually can't) extend much beyond the organisation itself. There are some interesting theories about serendipitous urban design out there, but they are unproven. Should we apply them to cyberspace considerations anyway?

Consider for a moment the downside to physical proximity: Making instant judgements about the value of interaction based on clothes, facial expression, vocal tone, gait etc. It's easy for people to give off signals perceived by others as threatening without intending to. So maybe the absence of these things enables a lot of discussions to take place that otherwise would never happen. Also consider the phenomenon of talking things over with someone NOT involved in your immediate environment and constant circle of contact and that you may well never meet. Discussions and experimentation with completely new departures may be much safer in those circumstances.

 The final seed idea for our discussion this week is derived from my recent reading of The Filter Bubble.  It is possible we are comfortably fooling ourselves about being “open” when actually the segments of people we interact with are already pre-selected on any number of different criteria that we do not necessarily choose.

Here are the chat questions: 

Q1 - Are new types of intimacy and insight possible in cyberspace? 

Q2 - Does cyberspace enable the dissolution of previously difficult barriers? 

Q3 - Can we 'culture' cyberspaces in the sense that 'culture' is used in the term 'horticulture'? 

Q4 - Should we think about creating deliberately engineered cyberspaces or events that counter implicit selection  in order to encourage greater, genuine diversity?

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