Back on January 20th, I celebrated (quietly) my 23rd anniversary in the IT industry. Quite an achievement, indeed, if you would ask me, for someone who graduated as an English teacher back in the day and who didn’t have much of an interest in technology in the first place. Sometimes, I still don’t!
It feels like a long time has passed by since I started working in this space in early 1997, but the thing is that it hasn’t. Mostly, because of three types of activities that have shaped pretty much that lengthy working experience over the years, and still going strong today: learning, unlearning and relearning.
And that has only accelerated itself in the last 6 years, even more so, since I went independent. Indeed, little did I know that upon leaving IBM in 2014 I’d be embarking on one of the most fascinating, thought-provoking and re-energising work adventures I could have ever imagined.
There hasn’t been a single day where that process of learning, unlearning and relearning would kick in to help me re-adjust, adapt and iterate again while moving on to the next thing, whatever that would be. The transition from (extended) big corporate life, to being on your own as a freelancer in that ill-informed gig economy landscape, to then start working again for another organisation in a completely different new territory for yours truly than the last two decades has been quite something, I can assure you of that! Talking about massive change(s), eh?
The thing is though, if I were to single out only one of those learning activities, as the winner of them all, it would be unlearning and by a rather long stretch! The first three years of that life as an independent were rather interesting while witnessing first-hand the transition from one extreme to the other: from big corporate life to going solo.
The last two years have been a completely different league altogether more than anything else because it’s taught me that the magic, perhaps, in terms of scale, is right in the middle, where I didn’t expect it to be in the first place!
The unlearning and relearning curves have been rather dramatic and overall in a very positive sense, because I have been given the unique opportunity to constantly be learning a new set of skills and expertise about a topic I thought was long hidden (or gone) inside my brain and that sooner rather than later emerged quite strongly, once again: making sense of data analytics for collaboration and knowledge sharing tools.
In upcoming blog posts I shall certainly be looking forward to detailing plenty more what this process of learning, unlearning and relearning has been for me so far, while adjusting to these new working conditions and adapting to a completely different way of thinking about the current nature of work, specially, when thinking about social tools. I will be detailing, over time, what that learning process has been like and where I stand at the moment. Here’s a teaser though: right at the very beginning of it all!
However, for now, I would want to focus on this blog post about one key major activity I have had to unlearn, and pretty quickly!, over the last couple of years. It’s actually been a rather painful, horrifying and disappointing experience altogether as I never thought I’d be seeing it first hand in my working lifetime. And here it is … Remember Markets are Conversations? Good! Time to unlearn it and forget about it completely, because everyone else has already done it!
Over 21 years ago, Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger co-wrote The Cluetrain Manifesto, a superb series of theses and essays on the topic of the huge impact the Internet would have on marketing (and sales, for that matter). That book then became one of the fundamental pillars behind the so-called Web 2.0 movement around 2004.
It gave it a purpose. It gave it an opportunity to understand that successful business could be done effectively in a completely different way through the extensive use of social tools by engaging on something that would fundamentally transform not only the way we work, but also the way we live and who we are for that matter. One conversation at a time.
Fast forward to 2020, and that’s all gone! Forgotten and left behind, as if it never happened in the first place. You know, it looks as if having bloody good, engaging, purposeful, giving (or learning driven) conversations is just lots of truly hard work with very little return, apparently. So, why bother, right?
Here’s the thing though as part of the unlearning process I’m currently going through. As a starting point, the social tools are everything, but social nowadays. I, for instance, stopped calling these tools social media a few years back and instead decided to stick around with just media tools.
Because that’s what we’ve decided to convert them to over time. A series of manipulative online tools that allow us to toot our own horn about how good and well crafted our own selling and marketing messages are. We have decided to stop listening altogether. Instead, we’ve now become the product we’d want to sell to others, and, as a result, decided to stop conversing with those who we once called our own social networks or community spaces where conversations were the new currency.
That’s most probably one of the main reasons as to why I’ve decided to resume my blogging mojo earlier on this year and why I feel that urge to regain those conversations by going back to basics: blogging.
However, there’s something else that worries me a whole lot more at the moment than us just having become broadcasting machines. It’s something that over the course of the last couple of years has added a rather poignant follow-up reflection to that unlearning process around social tools. People have stopped caring.
Apparently, we only seem to be interested in getting Likes, Retweets and Reshares; praising commentary that’ll just boost our own egos to no end, forgetting altogether what it was like having a really good conversation with one’s social networks on a topic we all are really passionate about. Have you ever tried to start a conversation either through media tools like Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. to then not even get a single response back, because, you know, people are just too busy?
Gosh, I can count those in the hundreds, if not the thousands! What happened to the good old mantras of the Cluetrain Manifesto and, specially, Web 2.0? Have we forgotten why we all got pretty excited just 15 years ago when all of a sudden we realise we had a unique opportunity to engage the entire world in a completely different new way? What have we become? Silly, convincing, coercing, arrogant marketing machines no-one is listening to anymore because it’s not us, humans, anymore?
I guess you know now one of the reasons as to why I haven’t been much online in these media tools over the last few months. I refuse to feed the beast I no longer recognise. I refuse to be manipulated for the sake of a like or a retweet / reshare. Somehow, along the way, I seem to have lost the energy to start conversations right at the same time when people have stopped caring. It’s a painful unlearning process, believe me, like I said, one that I never thought I’d be witnessing in my entire work life.
Remember how all of these social tools were going to change the world? Change the nature of today’s work? Change who we are to then venture into what we might become through our social networks and communities? Eventually, change us forever? Hummm … we seem to have lost all of that!
Does that mean I’m giving up altogether when social media has turned into just media tools? When people have stopped caring about having conversations through social tools just because it’s too much hard work and we are all far too busy with ourselves? Am I giving up on what made Web 2.0 magical in the first place? The conversations? No way! You see? Once you see the light and enjoy it for a good few years there is no way back into the darkness. And if you do, at your own peril.
That’s why, as part of that unlearning process, I’m back to blogging long form. To remind myself of why I first got involved with social tools back in 2000 when I had my first experiences with blogs and wikis. Remind me why in 2002 I decided to have my own internal corporate blog and why in 2005 I made the jump into the Internet Blogosphere and still going rather strong today. That’s just 20 years of conversations through social tools I’m not willing to give up on just yet. And you? Will you give up? Have you given up?
I don’t know about you, but, to me, it feels as if we are only now just getting started…
14 thoughts on “Unlearning”
Welcome back, Luis and so great to read your thoughts after long. Keep blogging my friend, and looking forward to learning, unlearning and relearning through conversations here.
Hi Tannay, many many thanks for dropping by and for the lovely re-welcome to the Internet Blogosphere. I very much appreciate it. I, too, look forward to further interactions and conversations, over here in the blogosphere, as well as on the different media tools. Look forward to unlearning and relearning together wherever the conversation(s) may take us 😃👍
I recognise the drive to return to conversations, but perhaps missing from your description is the need for a slower conversation with myself.
This for me has been one of the main drivers to revitalise my blog, also practising even slower “thinking out loud” via a binge of fedwikis…
Mike Caulfield’s “Garden and Stream” metaphor feels very relevant…
Thanks a bunch for dropping by and for the lovely feedback! While reading through your blog comment I couldn’t help thinking that rather that missing the sense of ‘slower conversation with myself’, it’s implicit in the whole act of blogging. And in 2020.
Reason why I’m saying that is because back in the day when I got things started with my blog here it’d take me about 15 to 20 minutes to write up something. Fast forward to today and it usually takes me a couple of days before I’m ready to share something meaningful enough of further conversations.
I guess we’ve become a lot more pensive and reflective in terms of what we write in spaces where the pace slows down a bit vs. the rampant snacking around that happens in media tools. I guess that’s what blogging does to us all. It slows us accordingly to have those much more paced and engaging conversations, regardless of where we would end up.
In fact, #SlowSocial is a thing. It’s been going on for a while already and I think it came out from a need to want to slow ourselves down and reflect a whole lot more than whatever we may have done in the recent past. Refreshing to no end.
Thanks a bunch for sharing the wonderful link to Mike’s stunning write-up! I have just finished up reading through it and it reminded me of a good friend of mine, Marshall Kirkpatrick, who, over the years, has been a huge fan of wikis to achieve exactly the same thing that Mike advocates for: the Garden.
I don’t know what you think, but I suspect we are all going to start questioning plenty of what we do with our online presence on different media tools and see whether it’s worth it staying there or diversifying a little bit.
I know, for myself, in nearly 20 years of blogging, that I have lived on both ends of the spectrum where I was blogging (only) and loved it, and where I was just using media tools (and I felt incomplete somehow). Perhaps that’s the reason why this year I decided to come back to blogging before diving back again into that Stream of the media tools. Somehow I seem to have a preference for the Garden more than the Stream itself and so far I’m having a blast!
It will be rather interesting and intriguing to see how long it will last … I think that’s going to depend on yours truly to decide how long I should tend the garden. So far, for a good while, I can tell you that!
Thanks much, once more, for the wonderful feedback!
I think the slow aspect is important. I blogged a little while ago about two-speed sensemaking, but in practice I think things work at even more levels:
“working in the open” quick posts
… and that’s just the public ones
Thanks a bunch, once more, for dropping by and for the continued conversation. I am not too sure what happened with the URL you just shared above, but it seems to be borked somehow. I think you refer to this blog post you wrote a little while ago, right?
That’s an excellent reflection and quite appropriate to our conversations over here. Many thanks for sharing it along! While reading through the article and digging further on the visuals there, I just couldn’t help thinking about how far context defines that pace for sense-making, whether it’s a quick one with a rather fast decision making process, or whether it’s a context that forces us to think some more on how we are going to make sense of it all.
I suspect with all of the different media tools out there we have decided to default on the fast pace sense-making and share across whatever comes to mind, not being fully aware of the potential consequences of that mindless act to respond, no matter what! If only we could slow down and think twice in that process, right? I suspect that vast majority of that useless dribble would disappear altogether!
If only we would resist the urge to respond right away for everything and figure out how context defines our interactions, I suspect media tools would still be social media. Remember the good old times from a bit over a decade or so? Those were the good old times before the masses decided to bastardise their initial purpose and the companies behind them realised it was the perfect opportunity to cash out on that fast speed sense-making, usually, dictated by both our rage and fears.
Yes I broke the link and you found the right one 🙂
These exchanges prompted me to start thinking about how these sorts of conversations rely on complex connections of ideas with other ideas, between people, and over time.
However reading your last comment more thoroughly I realise I missed a factor that you have expressed, and that’s the importance of context (which in many cases is driven by the tool or platform) and how a given context facilitates different modes of thinking.
Following that thought, I then wonder how many of us who are returning to blogging are driven by recovering a mode of interaction that has been swamped by noise for at least a decade, or how many of us are in the first place trying to rediscover a relationship with our own ideas and are writing ourselves into existence?
I think you pretty much hit the nail on the head with your comments shared above around the value of these reflections in long form interactions through our blogging urges. I have been cleaning up RSS newsfeeds while continuing to keep up with different media tools and it’s rather interesting to observe how plenty of the folks who started blogging and then move to media tools have now decided to return back to blogging as their place for long form reflection. An extension of their brain.
While, those who got started with media tools continue to use them for much shorter bursts of broadcasting messages. It’s interesting to see how none of those who would fall into this group are thinking about blogging for that long form reflective space as if blogging is just ‘too much effort’, when, in reality, it isn’t. It’s just a matter of priorities.
Yes, context defines plenty of these interactions and conversations, but I’m also thinking that throughout those three years I wasn’t blogging over here I kept feeling like something was missing. That own space for self-reflection, and extension of one’s brain, at a much slower pace and, most importantly, an space where you have the ability of extending one’s thoughts and ideas through linking to other people’s work.
I have been told many times that one of the things folks like the most about my own blogging is the different links I shared per post bringing other interesting points on to the table for further discussion. It’s one of the reasons why I wanted to resume my blogging mojo again, as I have bumped into lots of stuff over time that I myself would want to reflect upon and share it with others for them to dive in as they may see fit, as you yourself are doing.
That’s, frankly, what makes blogging worth while the effort altogether and I am really happy people are finally shaking off their snacking around in media tools and bring back the good old Web 2.0 we all once loved and cherished.
I’m just hoping we are going for a revival of the social tools we once loved for what they were really good at: conversations!
Have you read this brilliant article by Doc Searls on this very same topic about what are some of the ills afflicting ourselves nowadays and how we can break free from them bringing back that Web 2.0 spirit? It’s a long read, for sure, but it’s just superb!
Hopeful and exciting altogether!
Fantastic piece by Doc.
My favourite quote has to be
When you tell me something I don’t know, you don’t just deliver a sum of information to me. You form me. As a walking sum of all I know, I am changed by that. This means we are all authors of each other. In that sense, the word authority belongs to the right we give others to author us: to form us.
Gosh, indeed, that’s just a superb quote, Julian! I have got many other favourite quotes from his article, but it won’t do them justice to share them as a comment. Even more so when I am writing a blog post on it sharing some of my favourite reflections upon reading it through multiple times already.
However, from that quote I just loved how he went back into the origins and etymology of the word ‘information’ to give us context on the kind of impact the Internet has upon us all.
It reminded me as well as to why I no longer use social media for all of these media tools, because we seem to have lost the original sense of the word Social: partner / partnership (Lat. socius).
Eventually, if you put together information and social media under those connotations you’d agree with me it’s the perfect ground to bring the very best of what Web 2.0 originally tried to do over 15 years ago! Oh my! How fast has time flown away upon us!
Can we please go back to the good old days where information right next to Web 2.0, in this context, just made perfect sense?
Oooh, by the way, upon reading your blog post referencing this conversation, the metaphor between the Garden vs. Stream is just superb, for sure! Many thanks for cross-linking, Julian!
There is also one other metaphor I couldn’t help thinking about as well that describes pretty much where we are. I have been using it myself for a while now and it’s with regards to food: enjoying a full meal vs. snacking around.
We all enjoy having a snack every now and then, while we wait for the time for the full meal. That’s essentially the same thing for media tools (where we snack) versus the full meal (blogs and wikis). Some times we ought to have such snacks to then realise how much more we enjoy a great full meal.
The thing though is that we seem to rely far too much on those snacks vs. working our way towards the full meal. And that’s perhaps the balance we need to strike for, once again, to keep amplyfing the deeper side of conversations, while we still might enjoy the odd snack here and there … Don’t you think?
I almost wonder if “people being too busy” could really be “people being too distracted.” I’m for sure guilty of that. At the same time, I’m impressed by how meaningfully you can engage people. At least, you’re leading by example in the space of caring.
In any case, when you say “caring” it is really striking a chord for me because that is what it is all about. You cared to write this and you’re caring to respond individually to each of these posts. I’m working to do more of this in how I approach my work. If someone posts a problem on the community I am a steward of (did you see how I did that 😉 – I make sure that even if I don’t know the answer I mention someone else who might. And I have also been leaving short comments on posts that I read, trying to add some value and contribute.
There is a time management struggle, but I think part of it–and perhaps I’m witnessing it in the way you work–is that on social media we can overthink our responses and not be as real and genuine as we could be. So, I’m working to care more and overthink less…and we’ll see where that goes!
Hi Justin, thanks a bunch for dropping by and for the wonderful feedback! I very much appreciate it 🙏😃
I think you bring in a very good point with regards to ‘people being too distracted’. That’s probably the case for a good number of folks, specially, with the myriad of tools and interactions they need to keep up with and make sense of. Not an easy task when you’re constantly being interrupted or distracted.
The thing though is that back in 2006 I wrote a blog post where I shared the following quote:
and I guess that 14 years later it still rings true. We pretty much create those distractions, but at the same time we still need to learn how to manage them effectively 😅
RE: Caring, that’s the thing, Justin! And I saw what you did there with community stewardship 😉. The thing that most folks don’t seem to understand is that caring is a two-way street. Pretty much like loyalty. if you care for people you regularly hang out with, eventually, they would care back for you. That’s what networks do. That’s what adding value is all about. You care for the networks you nurture and sustain. Not just do your own thing. Only when we start caring do we realise the true power and potential of the networks and communities under which we operate on a daily basis.
I just wish folks would understand that not just with their words, but also with their actions. That’s also one other important aspect around caring: if you do, walk the talk, please, lead by example, not just do the fancy talk and move on to your next thing. I am afraid things just don’t work like that.
Your last paragraph is a golden gem on its own, because, in reality, without saying it out loud, you have pretty much made the case that folks just need to be themselves: authentic and honest and stop pretenting to be who they are not. Times have changed and we notice when the mask(s) is up!
Many thanks, once more, for the fantastic and look forward to more conversations over time!