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The knowledge Zoom

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Democratization of views

There is also something democratizing about everyone being presented in the same size square, arranged in a  non-hierarchical order, and without a visual designation (usually) of who is the leader. There is no front or back of the room and no seat specially reserved for the meeting’s manager. There are certainly times when a conversation can benefit from having a strong manager, but it’s often good to be in a space less susceptible to domination.

Some degree of domination is probably inevitable in any group conversation, and it can be appropriate when the knowledgebase is uneven. But when it correlates too strongly with traits irrelevant to the value of contributions to the discussion, then being made aware of it is a first step to holding more equitable conversations. Virtual conversations even have the infrastructure necessary to routinely produce reports on whether people of a particular race or gender are getting to speak. How the system determines the gender or races of the participants is not a straightforward question, however, but neither is interpreting the data it produces.

The development of knowledge

Thanks to group “back-channel” chats being a standard feature of virtual meeting software, we are now getting even more used to the idea that the pursuit of knowledge is digressive, that not all issues are of equal clarity or relevance to each individual, that some quick questions that may not be of interest to the entire group still may be important to a few attendees, that not everyone starts from the same place, and that discussions connect to other ideas and posts at unpredictable moments. The virtual meeting software that allows chats to be saved acknowledges that these ”digressions” can be important to the development of knowledge.

Group chats can also turn personal or funny, providing reminders that the pursuit of knowledge is not separate from the rest of our lives, and that that activity can be lively and entertaining. It’s good if exploring knowledge is fun.

Virtual meeting systems often have a “Record” button that allows the entire conversation to be shared. This can be both a valuable way to save and archive knowledge and simultaneously a reminder that observing knowledge development without having the opportunity to participate can feel not only frustrating but unnatural. Not to mention that merely watching an interesting discussion often makes that discussion not all that riveting after all— offering another reminder that knowledge development is something we do as full humans, not merely as knowing brains attached to speaking mouths.

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