Saturday, July 28, 2007

You Can't Deny the Social World!

I continue to be amazed at the ramparts erected by denizens of the objective world in their efforts to deny the existence of the social world! Most recently I have been following the confused of calcutta discussion on whether or not companies should ban their employees from visiting Facebook, at least at work. A comment from alexis expressed amazement that "a mutual friend at a Tier1 Bank told me it was banned on the basis of being a ‘Dating Site’." Of course Facebook is a dating site; and, as those of us who have studied the phenomena know, dating in virtual worlds can get just as hot and heavy as it does in the physical world! (Is there any difference between "getting it on" in the world of plain text electronic mail and engaging in phone sex?) However, over in that physical world, bars are dating sites also. Is there anyone out there in the world of enterprise workers who has not conducted business in a bar at one time or another? The problem with virtual worlds is that we get so wrapped up in all the evangelical jargon about them that we forget about some of the simple realities of the physical world!

It gets better. Stick with the fact that a particular virtual environment is primarily a dating site. Can any enterprise worker claim to have worked for an organization that never had even the slightest brush with sexual harassment? Like it or not, the office is a dating site, too; and, until we finally invent a realistic approximation to Huxley's soma to regulate the libido, it is going to stay that way!

This brings me to that oft-repeated positivist dream of enriching "data with real semantics," that old Philosophers' Stone that will solve all the problems of knowledge management. Inveterate Wittgensteinian that I am, I believe that the only "real semantics" reside in how we use those data, whether they are texts, records in a database, or cells in a spreadsheet. The corollary is, as we all know, that, as our situation changes, we use those texts, records, and spreadsheets in different ways. That applies to workplace talk as well as everything else; and anyone with an ounce of literary sensibility can recognize when seemingly objective "work talk" is also sending out "mating dance" signals! (In other words the multiple uses of text and be simultaneous!)

Those who react to these plain truths in horror remind me of those who want to achieve zero-level probability of a terrorist attack in their community. This is an unrealistic goal. The less hysterical policymakers in "homeland security" have long argued that one should strive for a robust environment, capable of quick recovery from catastrophe (whether caused by terrorists or forces of nature). This is still a tall order, but it is at least within the realm of possibility! The conduct of business, whether in physical or virtual worlds, should be similarly robust.

Personally, I just try to avoid talking too much in either virtual worlds or bars. This is not because of any puritan streak. I just bear in mind that wherever I am talking, my texts can have consequences. So I prefer to generate texts in settings where I can review them (as I plan to do with this comment after I complete it)!

No comments: