I need your help with this one. A friend I know in real life (we have to make these distinctions now) is interested, sceptical and, I suspect, slightly horrified at the world of online courses and retreats, which she’s just found for the first time through an email invitation.
She’s an experienced group leader (real life groups – again the distinction). She’s open-minded and no Luddite, but she lives a Facebook-free life and struggles with the concept that true communication can occur without the advantages of tone of voice, body language and facial expression.
I’ll be asking for some opinions at the end of this post, but meanwhile, a few thoughts from me.
I know what my experience has been. I’ve developed a world-wide network of like-minded people through my blogs, those of others, and the social networks to which we belong. I’ve formed online relationships (and in some cases gone on to meet) with people I never would have bumped into in my home town.
I’ve been enriched by online courses and retreats, by discussions on e-networks both private and public. I’ve also occasionally caught the whiff of snake-oil.
One of the things extremists and fundamentalists do really well is organise and connect. As we and the planet we live on lurch from one crisis to another, it seems to me vitally important that the more thoughtful among us make our own webs of connection and communication.
Is it real?
I’ve been making distinctions between “real” and online life. I’m not convinced those distinctions are valid. For the first time in human history we have this potential for communication, these instant webs of information and sharing. But it’s not the first time in human history that people who don’t know each other have developed close friendships. We’ve all heard of intimate friendships conducted by letter, with authors, monastics and others. And most of us here are old enough to remember pen-pals. (In fact if you yearn for the age-old art of letter-writing, you’ll enjoy this site.)
There is a difference between knowing the physicality of someone – voice, skin, mannerisms – and knowing them only through their words. But I’m not sure the latter is necessarily less real.
And online courses often incorporate elements of physicality, with conference calls and videos as well as written exchanges.
What’s your experience been?
It’s true to say I’m considered a bit geeky by some of my friends, and I’m biased, which is why I’m appealing to a broader range of people. That means you, gentle reader.
Do you belong to an online network? Have you taken part in online courses or retreats? It would be great if you could share your views in the comments.
For example tell us whether you think they encourage true communication; what are the pros and cons; how deep can you go; what makes really good online courses or communities and what spoils them? If you run a mile from online courses and retreats, what puts you off?
Your comments would be really helpful, both to my friend and others like her, who wonder what the hell this is all about.