Virtual connection is definitely not the same as an in-person connection. So why would it be useful? Maybe for conferences with attendees that can’t physically attend…that would be the best reason right? But what about when the whole world gets caught up in a diseased and deadly storm, when gestures of love and intimacy are now a double-edged sword, when breathing freely in a crowded place can possibly be a death warrant? What then? Does virtual connection bring people together when there’s no other way? When universities, schools and offices are forced to continue life through an app? When did physical human connection become such a crime? Well, I guess…now.
The article Intentionally Equitable Hospitality in Hybrid Video Dialogue: The Context of Virtually Connecting highlights the benefits, and disadvantages, that VConnecting brings to the table when it comes to attempting to re-enact face-to-face interactions. The main purpose of VConnecting to open the gates for equal access, for people in and out of the place, to be able to attend conferences, class, meetings, etc. But there’s no guarantee, since “equal access does not result in equal outcomes.” The intentions are well, but the product cannot ensure those intentions necessarily. But don’t get me wrong…it’s pretty beneficial. Online informal learning spaces “obscures power dynamics and lines of responsibility, challenging a system of hierarchy, which Autumn Caines mentions in her article Real Life: The Zoom Gaze ( a little segway into my pathfinder…). It accompanies the ideal concept of intentionally equitable hospitality. But why does this kind of concept need to be worked towards, written down as a goal? Because unfortunately, hospitality is not a default in academia. And yes, you read correctly…not. Sad, isn’t it? But that’s reality, which is where VConnecting + IEhospitality tries to come and save the day. VConnecting promotes equity rather than comply with inequalities….but does it really? Again, intentions are good but it doesn’t happen that way.
Let’s start with hybrid mode. There is disturbance in onsite audio, visual imbalance which in turn negatively morphs body language, clarity, size and communication. The students/attendees who are onsite then will unintentionally cast out the virtual students. Why? Not because they hate them or have any personal enmity with them, but because they don’t have the ability or patience to sit their and stare at a face that seems blurry or struggle to hear a voice that keeps cutting off. So this hybrid mode ends up causing a power dynamic to be created (again, unintentionally) between the in-person and virtual attendees. And that’s not all…these are problems people who have internet access encounter or who can speak English/common language. What about the student/attendee who doesn’t speak the same language, have proper internet access, or doesn’t have in tehri nature to speak out? Instead of breaking out of those barriers, the situation will only capitalize on those factors and worsen the experience.
So….equality? Where does it fit in this complicated puzzle of VConnecting and IEhospitality? No doubt about it, it was in the original plan but honestly, it’s been lost somewhere along the way. But I will give it the benefit of the doubt because there’s a constant development, progression, and even evolution of these types of projects and they even admit it themselves. They have to give up the idea of assuming that everyone is unanimously experiencing inclusion in this virtual environment. Give it any type of terminology, name or phrase but you have to admit…there’s nothing like a real connection in a time of disconnection. But what can we do? At least they are trying right?