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2 cultural shifts I’ve noticed

a picture of an old typewriter's shift keyThe web changes everything.

This is a bold statement for me. When it comes to networked electronic communication tools, I’m a “the more things change, the more they stay the same” kind of person. People deal with strange new things in predictable ways. But the web speeds up this process like never before.

Over the last several weeks I’ve felt 2 paradigm shifts in the online ether. One shift is in a particular way people are veering from in-person norms to specific norms for online communities. The other is in using the Internet to learn a foreign language.

Silos are bullshit.

I’ve noticed more and more people are openly admitting to blocking family members or unfollowing friends on Facebook and other platforms. This action used to be equated to shunning someone in person but that association is weakening. Users are customizing the tools more to their own personal needs. This means adopting new societal rules for online communications that veer from in-person communications. Soon it will be a normal thing to exclude family members and close friends from your social platform accounts, and no offense will be taken. The excluded persons won’t see this as a slight and will understand they can contact you via other means.

This is a giant leap away from imprinting established social customs onto new communication tools. This next step, one that usually takes many decades to implement, is taking root now after only about 15 years. For mass adoption of places like Facebook, I’d say it has been really only 5 years.

The media calls this “silo-ing” or building an “echo chamber” but that’s a lot of hooey. Many great apes, including Homo Sapiens, customize tools for personal use. There is no reason to believe humans will stick with a site’s default settings and offline social norms once they get familiar and comfortable with the platform, especially not if the online culture itself is encouraging such behavior. (So go out there and admit you’ve blocked friends on Facebook! Seriously. It helps progress).  

Va bene!

Next shift I see is in the language learning field. I’ve discovered some growing grass-roots theories online about how an adult can learn another language. Instead of the traditional classroom-type book learning, some movers and shakers out there have generated apps around the immersion theory of language learning. Immersion theory is what it sounds like: learning by doing. One of the lessons from this theory is that most people use, on a daily basis, 300-1000 words. Learn the most-used words and phrases in any language and you can quickly rise to a basic proficiency. Next step in immersion theory is to get out there and have basic conversations with native speakers.

This month I’m concentrating on Italian, and in the coming months I’ll be perfecting my Spanish. Two apps have helped me learn some basic Italian: Duolingo and HelloTalk. Duolingo teaches you the most common words and phrases in basic subjects like social greeting, foods, basic body functions and needs, etc. HelloTalk is an app that matches up language learners. Right now I have a few Italian language partners who seek to learn English. We help each other with pronunciation, culture, practice, etc. After only a few days, I feel comfortable with the idea of greeting and briefly chatting with an Italian speaker.

I should add that speaking in person is the challenge. With today’s translation tools, writing in a chat room is super easy if you have a general idea of what you want to say. A few weeks ago I had a long conversation in Italian with a reporter who needed help locating an American for an article he was writing. I did this using Google Translate and my knowledge of Spanish.

The Star Trek communicator is not far off. And with voice-generation software that will be out in public in the next few years, you’ll be able to answer in your own voice in another language.

Photo Credit: C Slack on Flickr

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