Online Times

Big stories in the media – inconclusive European negotiations, American elections and, most of all, a virus that will not just “go away” – may all indicate times of uncertainty and change, although smaller stories of the time may impact on us far more directly.

If you are like me, you probably never heard of video conferencing software like “Zoom” before about six months ago but I will probably have to become more accustomed to such media soon because it has become an important forum, be it in the workplace or in the world of scholarship.

The push to create more open-access material may be associated with making the world of scholarship public rather than private. A good piece of recent news on that front is the decision to make the Dictionary of Irish Biography publication open-access from next spring.

Turning from publications to presentations, if college lecturers must currently speak online this may encourage not only shifts in style but also more public presentations that utilise the same format. Perhaps this may also encourage more cooperative ventures? In Ireland, Cork often seems to produce novel initiatives of this kind. It was fascinating recently to be able to hear a lecture by the Defence Forces chief of staff online for free, thanks to University College Cork. By contrast, other events, like the politician-friendly MacGill Summer School, may also have gone online but they still require registration fees. “Pay to hear me talk” does not seem like a friendly idea.

The psychologically attuned often speak of “growth” and “fixed” mindsets, equated with positivity and negativity respectively, with the former being characterised by a perpetual openness to learn and perseverance in new challenges and the latter being associated with a belief that our aptitudes and abilities are set in stone so there is no sense in welcoming being thrown off balance by having to operate outside our comfort zones. To be perfectly honest, I am not sure to what extent I fit into either category. I am probably more “fixed” than I realise. Spending time online may create an illusion of public engagement, although actual engagements online may enhance the degree to which we are attuned to public communication. If our comfort zone exists primarily when we can hang up a “do not disturb” sign, perhaps our comfort zones need to change?

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