Webinars and workshops, reconnection tools at the time of social distancing

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“Can you hear me? Turn on the camera! I hear you at times … Is Mario connected? Was that your daughter? Bla bla bla…”

The forced stay in our homes for the health emergency has brought audio video communications to prominence. Of course, they are definitely not new from any point of view, but they represent the ways in which most of us have transformed work and interactions in the current situation that still imposes on us some cases of social distancing. In particular, the spread of smart working has made protagonists (and perhaps their use, so to speak, “bulimic”) tools such as: Microsoft Skype or Teams, Google Hangouts, Citrix GotoMeeting, Adobe Connect, Slack, Zoom and so on.

Social Proximity: the opportunity to reconnect at the time of social distancing

But why do we tell you about it? What does TSW, its listening model, and the quality of people’s experiences have to do with? We tell you about this, because we think that in a tool that definitely spreads among people, so as to set new communication or aesthetic codes, sometimes there is a value, a quality or a possibility, which we neglect for the evident (and perhaps predominant) direct benefits. An example for all: the car is certainly a useful means of transport, but when we were young for many of us it certainly represented a relationship tool, when it was not even a matchmaker.

What is the value in this context that we could not grasp, but that exists? What actually represents a real opportunity for connection and reconnection: social proximity, if you want, to counterbalance the present situation, but which in reality is more correctly an emerging property of the fact that we are called or have the possibility of conference call and webinar.

Webinar as a Nursery

Emerging properties are intrinsic properties in a group, which are not possible when any of the individual elements of that group act alone. Try to think of some concrete examples: ant colonies, complex chemical systems, cities or, precisely, working groups. For this reason, more than the conference call, we would like to suggest a lateral point of view to read, interpret or undertake the way of the webinar (it is not that news).

The webinar as a nursery where ideas, inspirations and solutions are born

Webinar is a neologism – even if it has existed for many years – given by the fusion of the English language terms: web and seminar. It was coined to identify educational or information sessions whose remote participation is possible through an internet connection. Unlike the webcast – another English word composed of web + broadcast – in which the transmission of audio and/or video signal on the web takes place in client-server mode, which, for what we are discussing, we could stigmatize as in “one to many” mode, in the webinars, or digital seminars, each participant accesses from his/her own computer/smartphone and is connected with other participants via the Internet. Webinars are in fact an interactive system where participants can interact with each other and with the seminar coordinator (auditor) using the tools available from video conferencing systems.

The interaction, free, even if bound by the turns of speech, as well as by the band, the interest, the selection of the themes and their non-trivial treatment, the participation, or the psychological freedom necessary to show and intervene, and the re-connection, that is a new way of communicating and expressing oneself, are the points that interest us in the webinar or online seminar. They recall the WITH that is intrinsic in sharing and co-creation, but also the topics of caring, relation and listening that TSW tries to bring into projects made together with people. In new relationships, in some ideas, in those emotions and in these stimuli lies the potential emerging quality of the remote seminar. Even if it goes out of the norm: the qualities, just to emerge, sometimes overflow like rivers from the riverbed in which we had thought and seen them flow so far.

Let’s go back for a moment to the meaning of seminary, because perhaps even in this word we can find an important meaning for us. Seminar, from the Latin seminarium (derivative of semen “seed”), meant, or would like it in our sense, “seedbed, nursery”: a place therefore where to grow seeds and plants. And come to think of it, in this it is not far from the best meaning of a study group in the university field, a course (well, again?), a symposium (another nice word, just ask Plato), or a round table (this is worth asking Lancillotto), in which you actively participate, intervening with reports, questions or taking part in debates.

If they are participatory, then we call them workshops, an English noun consisting of work and shop. And it is precisely from the latter that it takes on the meaning of laboratory, especially if related to the artistic (you went to the shop to learn) and the theatrical (will we ever attend them again?) areas of interest, a collective work group on a specific topic.

A collective work, the search for a topic, a theme, the answers or the questions, which are even more interesting, seedbed or nursery, workshop or job, are words that today we do not often listen to, except in the sense of prohibition or – waiting for a definitive release – in the daily bulletins or in the weekly decrees. The release, however, must start from us and from the lock-down we are getting out, but we have to do that with our mind and the network, in a shared and collective, participatory and interactive look-up.

We have to take care of the teams or groups, we must create small ones, cross-functional and more horizontal, and then immediately enlarge them, together with internal and external people, with customers and partners, guests and friends, and look at the reception, the reactions, the type of most profitable stimuli, the answers or the questions that it generates, thinking about how we can engage a little of our time about that.

Not just apps, networks and microphones: a webinar is made up of people, ideas, trials and mistakes

The online seminars can take place by downloading a program onto the computer of each of the participants or by connecting to a web application via a link distributed by e-mail (invitation to the meeting). To access the webinar you need to have a network connection, a multimedia tool management program, a microphone and a speaker/headset.

That’s all?

No… people are needed, and not the public, ideas are needed, and not pre-packaged notions or answers, external stimuli are needed, to change perspective and not seeking immediate solutions, trials and errors are needed, repeated moments to warm up and run in system, because it is not obvious that it works, but if fully lived it is generative (of those seeds).

This is our wish, that in your shared screens a new perspective opens up, like those seedlings coming out from the asphalt, otherwise they will be just calls or meetings made on video.

We cannot say that everything will go well, but taking the initiative and using old instruments in a new way will make us live the present reality better, at least, and maybe will bring the expected solution but perhaps by unexpected souces.

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18 May 2020 Bernardo Lecci

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