3 Participating in a digital world
This section of the course should take you around two hours to complete. If you don’t have time to work through it all at once, there are break points where you can stop and return later.
Section 2 mentioned the rise of social networking – one aspect of our increasingly digital world. You may already communicate online to some extent in your daily life.
When we have a face-to-face conversation, we don’t just rely on the spoken words to establish the other person’s meaning. Unconsciously, we are also monitoring the tone of their voice, their facial expression and their body language. Telephone conversations are a little more ambiguous because we can no longer see the other person; email and online discussions are harder again, since all we have is text. It is extremely easy to misinterpret words on a page, so the writer must take great care before pressing the button that sends their message to the world.
This section provides a quick guide to good practice in contributing to online discussions. It should help you to work and socialise with other people online – in your studies, your social life and your working life. Much of the content is summed up by the familiar tenet known as the Golden Rule: a concept common to many ethical codes, which simply states that we should treat others as we would want them to treat us. Just as this Golden Rule is relevant to good manners – ‘etiquette’ – when talking face-to-face, so it is relevant to online communication. To help us apply it, it has been developed into guidelines for online behaviour called ‘net etiquette’ or, more commonly, just netiquette.
Netiquette is intended to make us all think about how we behave online and to make us aware of the effect our words could have on other people reading them. If it seems that there are far too many rules to follow, be reassured that they aren’t hard-and-fast commands that you must remember and obey. Netiquette does not encompass every situation you may find yourself in – it’s perfectly possible to obey all the guidance below and still annoy someone – but it will give you a good foundation for your participation in online discussions.
Most of what follows is common sense and good manners. Some of it may be familiar to you but please take time to read it if you don’t have much experience of using online discussion groups to work with other people. There’s a big difference between working in an online community and socialising online, so even if you are experienced at the latter, you should find this section useful.