As a senior in high school I can remember scowling the internet to find out what activities were available at the University of Virginia. I remember before I had even stepped foot on the grounds of the University of Virginia, I found an “in” to my new university through the Theta Kappa Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha’s Website. I didn’t know the people on the screen smiling back at me, and I had never been to the Rotunda…but seeing the website I hoped I one day would.
Thus, when I decided to re-do the “old” chapter website I wanted to maintain the element that had drawn me “in” in the first place. I wanted to maintain the idea that anyone anywhere could look at the chapter and it could translate into a future relationship with the chapter and or its members. Furthermore, I didn’t want to out the “old” but I wanted to incorporate the “new”. I wanted to make sure those same faces I saw four years ago smiling back at me felt that their off-line participation and ongoing love for the chapter was translated in the new online content. I wanted to make it easy for off-line relationships to transform into online content, and for online content to just as easily transform into off-line relationships. It was a task that I envisioned would be harder than it eventually turned out to be. “Online content” is in essence the abstract materials and virtual world created by the internet and those who participate in the creation of it. Consequently, because almost anyone could create it and almost anyone can interact with it is usually seen as extremely accessible. However, although the online content is extremely accessible it doesn’t always mean that off-line relationships will result from knowing online content. For example, most college kids have tons of Facebook friends they’ve never spoken to, who they’d never invite to their birthday party, and whom never take out to lunch. Subsequently, on the other hand “off-line social relationships” are seemingly the opposite. Off-line social relationships by nature are exclusive. Furthermore, it is not always acceptable to make off-line relationships into online content without consulting with that person. Keeping with the Facebook example, posting on a girl friend’s wall the intimate details of a night-out you had together without off-line permission could be grounds for a break in that relationship. Therefore, it can be assumed that there is a thick line between online content and off-line relationship, having one doesn’t always translate to having the other.
In the Facebook examples it might seem like the two worlds don’t playing together nicely, but I found through the Theta Kappa website that fare-play is possible. In working with the website, I found that the two worlds fed off each other, tussling back in forth like a game of hacky-sack. I engaged in old off-line relationships; then I engaged with new content that lead to new relationships; then I talked to past members and current members about what they’d like to see the website look like; then I created content that looked similar to the old in a new way; then I emailed webmasters for permission to access servers; then I got help from the more technology sound; then I created more new content; then off-line people started to create online content; and then people who just knew the chapter by content began to talk to us in person. Then in the end I couldn’t remember where online and off-line began and ended. I couldn’t remember what was old and what was new. I couldn’t remember that the virtual and the physical worlds had ever been apart.
Although the end result was an amalgamation of the two worlds, compromises had to be made for their cohabitation. For example, privacy settings was one of the issues that I feared would either out the “old” or fail to embrace the “new”. As stated before, off-line relationships aren’t always eager to share in public content but new people are often disenchanted when they are blocked by privacy settings. The compromised I made was to keep the blog open to all users while restricting the use of the Twitter to people affiliated with the organization off-line. Ultimately, it allows for both worlds to feel like they can participate with the site online by creating content and hopefully translates to equal opportunity off-line interaction.
Through the process of updating the new website for the chapter I saw that online content and offline relationships are capable of more. I am not saying that what I ultimately created was an equal interaction between the two worlds (I admit that the most visible participation in the online content is fuelled by pre-existing offline relationships) but I am saying that the interaction is there and therefore capable of more. I think a universal message that can be taken from this project —you don’t have to throw the baby out with the bath water to add more babies—you can just get a bigger tub! That is, in terms of online content and off-line social relationships you don’t have to see them as two separate worlds. There is a way to incorporate online content into offline relationships just as there is a way to incorporate offline relationships into online content. Thus it’s not necessarily out with the old, in with the new, but you can keep the old, and bring in some new. So to all those readers out there, whether you are updating your Facebook page or randomly sitting by that person that popped up in your mini-feed the other day, you can have your cake and eat it too! You can combine the virtual and the physical worlds we inhabit to embrace the future while holding onto the past—just say “hello, ______”!