Virtual Venues and Liminal Spaces

20Jul20

TL;DR

We need to make space between online activities if we want to remember and appreciate them.

Background – a virtual meetings just running together?

One of my Leading Edge Forum (LEF) colleagues sent me this Washington Post article ‘All these Zoom birthdays and weddings are fine, but will we actually savor the memories?‘, which basically seems to boil down to saying that online meetings run together in a way that it’s hard to tell one from another. I think one of the issues here might be a lack of liminal space:

The word liminal comes from the Latin word ‘limen’, meaning threshold – any point or place of entering or beginning. A liminal space is the time between the ‘what was’ and the ‘next.’ It is a place of transition, a season of waiting, and not knowing.

In essence, if you’re sat in front of the same laptop, in the same room, then don’t be surprised if all your online meetings run together into some amorphous glob.

Some contrasting personal experiences

Reflecting on some contrasting personal experience of the last few months (and I realise that I’m fortunate to live in a large(ish) house with a variety of rooms on offer):

  • Drinks and games with friends – we’ve done a few sessions where we’ve joined friends on Google Meet and played Jackbox party games. The setup I used for that had the friends or the game on my larger living room TV screen rather than just using my laptop standalone.
  • Similarly, live comedy shows (mentioned in my last post on The Front Row) have been watched on the TV, but also with surround sound switched on (this is an area where I think the platform providers can help my allowing show producers to stream different audio sources [performers/audience] into different channels [centre/left/right/rear]).
  • For drinks with a particular group of friends I’ve been using my iPad in the kids’ games room – so again a different device and place from ‘work’.
  • I’ve done a couple of whisky tastings recently where the tasting was on a Facebook or YouTube stream, with a parallel tasting party on Zoom. I used my ‘work’ setup for that (as the multiple screens are handy), but I think in that case the different tastes and smells of the whisky make for a distinct experience.

My sense here is that part of what makes events memorable are the liminal spaces around them. It’s not just that I go to a restaurant or comedy club, but also the journey there and back. Mostly being at home during lockdown means there are fewer opportunities to pass through liminal spaces, but there are still ways that we can create different spaces for and around virtual events to make them more memorable.

A connection to learning?

Related… (I think), following Jez Humble’s endorsement I’ve been reading ‘Learning How to Learn‘ with the family. The book talks about focus time and diffuse time. If we’re going to focus on things in virtual events, then we need diffuse time between them (by transiting through a liminal space).

Conclusion

If we want to get value out of online work events, and enjoyment from online social events, then I think we need to create liminal space between them. At a minimum, that probably means putting down the laptop and walking away a few times throughout the day.



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