Technology and the virtual paddling community
We live in an age of mediated experience with communities. There are often many filters and layers of technology between me and people I might interact with. For the most part technology has enabled us to bridge gaps, share information, and finally connect whether virtually or in reality. I heard an amazing program on NPR while driving home last night about a virtual choir. Eric Whitacre who lives in an isolated area and cannot always actively participate in composing and conducting music got the idea to have people submit vocal melodies via video submission on the internet. These submissions could be edited together into one large piece. The actual idea struck me as very beautiful, in that the internet was being used to bring people from all over the world together towards a collaborative goal of creating music, and then of course the metaphorical aspect of all of these discordant pieces being synched together into a literal choir was not lost on me.
This mediated experience with people sometimes offers two very complex challenges.
The first problem is understanding both context and authority. While this sounds haughty, I view this as a very serious problem. By way of example, so does Google. If you think about it this way, Google has staffed an army of software engineers to understand social web authority since 2001 with mixed success. This problem of understanding credibility and authority is at the root of problems with the internet. A voice you hear often (in the technological hinterlands) is not necessarily a credible authority in their subject area. As point of reference, I would say that most of the guest speakers and coaches for our midwest sea kayak symposiums have limited online community participation. And for this you should be thankful actually. This means they are out paddling, coaching, and adventuring, rather than talking about it on the internet.
So in full recognition of this irony, this blog, among others in the midwest, Have Kayaks Will Travel from the Bloyd-Peshkin’s, Derrick Mayoleth of Kayak Quixotica, Brian Hansel of Paddling Light, David Johnston of Paddle Instructor have all created a niche of paddlesport news and information. While we are not journalists in point of fact, there is an informal process of peer review and let’s say “bullshit” detection going on. We will all in fact call BS on the others, and question information, opinions, technique, fact and process. We’ve never made it formal. There is an even wider base of peer review with those that are less internet enabled (active), but let’s call them domain experts. I have had Body Boat Blade both applaud and correct information on this blog, as well as Scott Fairty, Ryan Rushton, Kelly Blades etc, etc. Meaning the voice of this blog is not a lone gunman, but a voice in that choir. Occasionally I step off the deep end. That is where your friends are there to help steer you back onto the path. Though there are times when there is a clear outlier where right/wrong are so clear, despite current trends you have to stand up and be out of synch.
The second problem is a simple one of decorum where the internet provides a shield for those without our first principle, context and authority; to voice an “opinion” loudly and repeatedly without actually having anything of value to say. They can be quite vocal about anything and everything, but rarely share a personal experience with failure of technique or application of theory. Beware this voice. Without failure as a teacher, and growth from that experience, there is fanaticism without applicability. And they will often skulk behind a computer to take punches at your work and your failures in fear of exposure of their own. My failure’s have been public and frequent, but they are mine, and so have my accomplishments.
We have an amazing opportunity to connect, create real community, and develop a real connection. I have been fortunate in that regard to meet many real people through the internet, Chuck Freedman, Geoff Jennings, Sean Morley, Body Boat Blade, the Bloyd-Peshkins, David Johnston. And this is the ideal, where we connect with technology and then finally have a real connection.
For those who want to take pot shots from behind a computer, I would challenge you to come out to South Haven Michigan this fall when the wind is blowing and show me what you are made of, see you on the water.