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After Work: Group Dynamics

Dona Gibbs muses on group behaviour after attending a conference in Seoul sponsored the the leading on-line citizen newspaper OhMyNews International.

For more of Dona’s columns please click on After Work in the menu on this page.

Try to organize people into a group. Ask them to show up at certain times in certain places. Have them file into an overly bright room. Request their attention for hour after hour. Expect them to listen attentively with seriousness of purpose.

You’ll soon find that the group, no matter how professional the proceedings, will revert to school kid behavior about mid-morning.

At least this was my observation at recent conference sponsored by OhMyNews International for “citizen journalists” in Seoul, Korea. Now for a disclaimer: what I’m about to describe in no way reflects on the venue, the content or the hospitality extended. These are just a few sidebar comments as to what happened when the 70 or so people got together from all over the world to discuss the current state of participatory journalism.

Most of these people had never clapped eyes on one another but that didn’t stop little cliques from forming. Right away at the opening buffet.

The genial South Korean hosts tried to mix things up, but the boisterous subcontinent participants hung out together, scooping up a shy young man from Nepal. The Americans gravitated toward the chap from Canada and the bloke from Australia and several wry-humored Israelis claimed me, a New Yorker, as an audience for their one-liners.

Oh yes, and I did find myself chatting with the other United States citizen journalist, a young guy from the west coast. The second night we charged ahead and led several unsuspecting fellow journalists up a set of stairs to the wrong restaurant.

“This way,” I remember shouting.

Americans, harrumph! Always think they know everything.

While we were all settling into a comfort zone of national stereotypes, we were also coalescing into your typical group of opinionated sixteen-year-old high schoolers. It started happening before the second morning session on the first day. People snickered. Whispered asides. Passed notes. And even checked their e-mail on the bank of computers our hosts had thoughtfully set up in case anyone was seized by the urge to file a story.

People had chosen their seats the first session, and by gosh and by golly, they weren’t going to budge from them. Not for the entire conference. You’d think roll was being taken via a seating chart.

We were asked to return to our seats after a short break. People continued to talk. We were asked again. Few moved to the conference room.

Our hosts smiled and urged us to take a seat. Reluctantly, people moved in and took their places but continued to talk and take photos of their new friends. If you didn’t have a digital camera, you weren’t in with the in crowd.

I’ve never seen so many business cards exchanged. Substitute, “ Please sign my yearbook,” for “May I have your card?” and you’ve got the picture.

Maybe it’s just a bunch of jet-lagged writers but I’ve never heard of so many reports of lost items by so many people.

People just couldn’t keep track of their things. Granted most of them lugged around backpacks that could have accommodated a compact washer/dryer combo, but there was a constant search going on for missing items.

“I’ve lost my watch,” my roommate wailed.

“I had a pen right here.”

“Anybody seen my glasses case?”

“I thought I had it with me.”

Right before any meal, we were given a voucher. Right before -- as in “Just a few steps and you’ll be asked for your voucher.”

I was accompanying one of the noted speakers into lunch, a man who’s put together a very popular news site –someone who’s obviously had to juggle a thousand and one details.

We got to the hostesses’ podium and, guess what, he couldn’t find his lunch voucher. He had to stand aside while he went through the patting of pockets routine. I felt pity but I couldn’t bear to watch panic set in.

Such an absent-minded bunch were we that wails of loss went on almost after every break.

Fear of loss kept me periodically digging through my handbag.

I must have lost something, I irrationally thought, everybody else has.

The final evening’s event was a gala standup banquet. As soon as the door were flung open to the courtyard of the historic restaurant, there was a rush for the bar.

“Hey, turns out, these are real journalists,” somebody observed while being swept up in the thirsty throng.

For the first time, nobody had misplaced a voucher.


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