Groupology

E-groups "spring full-blown from the head of Athena" it seems, in terms of being "live" in short order.


It is difficult to describe and explain the exceptional closeness, loyalty to, and protectiveness of each other that we experienced. Most of us never met f2f, nor even talked by phone. But when one of us suddenly married, a few were truly incensed that she "didn't ask our permission." When that very same young woman several years later suddenly died from a heart attack, we were stunned and unconsolable. We couldn't even see her own husband being anywhere as close to her as we were. We even tried to have a funeral service for her over the Net.
a) I'm psychologically minded b) the internet is shooting up like Jack's Beanstalk - I'd like to climb it and see what dreadful and wonderful creatures await us at the top; c)I have suffered writers block for years - can't even write a letter - and suddenly I've found a medium I can freely communicate in (well, verbal has never been a problem; but I want to publish!) - which amazes me and makes me wonder about the semiotics of Netspeak. d) I need a dissertation - and either this is an excuse not to write one, or it is an opportunity to write one. e) I want to be on the cutting edge of psychological research, and this is where it must be - The Psychology of NetGroups or some understanding of how appealing this experience/language/community is to some of us, more and more of us, and why.
This gets us back to the age-old question, "What is a group, as opposed to a bunch of bozos waiting for a bus?" I think W.R. Bion wrote that a group was a shared, perhaps unconscious, fantasy (or maybe "object"). If this is so, then the question is, is the medium of a list of messages sufficient to create a group?
It seems to me that "a group" has some kind of self-reflexive stance (a little we/they) -- bozos waiting for a bus have little of this, although under stress, they can develop it at least temporarily. So it seems to me that a group has to develop some sense of membership or belonging.
"A bunch of bozos waiting for a bus" *is* a group. Groups that are self-aware are a special case of the class "group". Groups are collections of people with shared circumstances.
So, yeah, I'd say an e-mail list is a group. Of what? I'd say an e-mail group is a group of humans who are attempting/succeeding/failing (at any given time) at some sort of unifying relationship or community and have some purpose in mind. Each may have his/her own purpose, a global group purpose,or both. Humans may come to this group & humans may go from this group buteach have some purpose in the coming, in the staying and/or in the going.
Uh-oh. Now, what is a "community?"
Myself (and several other members of this list) also belong to a group which formed a team over the net.
Well... with a really "close" group, I can whine about my life and not get kicked out! :-)
I think you are a member of a group if and when you say you are.
Some history: having begun with 2, year-long sensitivity groups in high school; numerous T-groups (including how to design and conduct T-groups) in Bethel, Maine (NTL) during grad school; 7 years of weekly Gestalt training & Gestalt groups; about 8 trips to Esalen for more "group experience." I now run groups in my practice. I'm a "grouped-out groupie," in cyberspace and everywhere else.
The Bloomsbury Group is all dead and gone but it lives on as a concept, . . .
Memory is a legitimate way of maintaining a group, I think; i.e. a written record, or a hard disk somewhere, or an individual person's cerebral cortex -- so yes the group lives on if only in one person's memory
The impulse to differentiate and reintegrate differences is the central principle around which I base my work with groups and organizations as it is the fundamental dynamic in all living human systems.
For example, a group which experiences great anxiety about a topic will avoid that topic through a variety of defenses, intellectualizing being one. Bion called that basic assumption flight. If the group is unsure as to direction (certainly the case here) the interaction will repeatedly focus on questions of who's in charge, why don't they set a clear direction, etc.
An interesting element of COG's Ladder is that according to the model, a group is knocked back down to the polite stage every time there is a change in membership. That is, someone joining the group or exiting the group. One reason for this is the need to validate the relationships and roles again considering the new membership mix. -
This brings into focus something about the peculiarties of this medium which distinguishes it from most f2f groups: The boundaries are quite elastic and amorphous (either/or) and I wouldn't even say they are "permeable" (in the Agazarian sense) -- They are beyond permeable -- By the setup there is no clear demarcation between "inside" and "outside." In psychoanalytic terms (NOT psychobabble) this nearly defines either a psychotic state or a highly creative state of being. In the psychotic range: paranoia, loss of distinct identity (psychotic merging), uncanny experiences (mind-reading, synchronicity, thought broadcasting, hallucinations) are symptomatic and create high anxiety in most. In the creative range: All sorts of new ideas, new connections, pushing the edge of the envelope.
Boundaries here are a bit of a moving target, but one factor in the civility of the discussion on this list is the growing and tacit and informal sense of limits, etc. which do seem to validate boundary setting as an on-going process. OTOH, make "no boundaries" the rule and I'll gladly and gleefully run amuck.;-)
I crave comments from those who know more about this group-dynamics voodoo.
The problem with trying to judge or watch or whatever the rest of the group does is THE GROUPS REACTION IS AN ILLUSION.
So, what does the group do with individuating individuals?
By having a task, it seem to me, the "group" is intent upon interacting with and having an impact upon the environment, whether that environment be physical, social, economic, or political. A group is trying to change the world outside the group. A club, as an entity, is not trying to change the world and the impact it has on the social or economic environment is incidental. Thus, in a group, the members, when engaged in activities that further the purposes of the group, are agents (in a legal sense) of the group when dealing with the world outside the group. The group is responsible for the actions of its members. In a club, outside of administrative matters that involve people outside the group, the agency relationship is unnecessary. For these reasons (maybe), groups tend to have authoritarian structures, while clubs can afford to be more democratic.
Now here we are gathered discussing/studying internet dynamics as though they are somehow different than group dynamics in general. If they are somehow different, why then take concepts and models used in studying regular group dynamics and try to imply them here? Wouldn't we, by definition, need new concepts and models?
As the eternal optimist, I believe anyone can be accepted into any group
"The term (group) embraces only mental activity of a particular kind, not the people who indulge in it." [Bion]
If one postulates a "group mind" or some similar construction with an existence akin to the Cartesian mind, it is nearly impossible to devise what constitutes an effective group, because the "mind" has no clear interaction with the world around it. If, however, one grants that the group is a hunk of social evolution arising from the interaction of people, technology and the other groups, the problem may become clearer. Just as the humans are constantly engaged in problem solving with the problems ranging from breakfast to game theory, the group is a problem solving entity and its effectiveness can loosely be judged on how creatively and intelligently it solves problems that arise as a result of situations presented by the environment in which it lives.
I've mentioned Agazarian before - and didn't even draw an "huh?" Agazarian Theory (a woman theorist in line with Virginia Satir) looked at groups as systems within systems (also in line with Lewin - King of systems theory). She was particularly interested in the boundaries between systems, and using a biological model (ala Lewis "Lives of a Cell" - my assoc., not necc. hers) she saw groups as micro-organisms in a context of relatively larger macr0 -organisms, or in relation to other micro-organisms, and ultimately in relation to a super-arching organism which is all social groups and groupings...

Her focus, again, was on the boundaries between systems. And her definition of a healthy, vital group was one that was semi-permeable - enabling it to take in from the "outside", through the boundary, what was nourishing and assimilable to the group; and not taking in what would poison or overload the group. "Unhealthy" groups either have impermeable boundaries which end up starving it into extinction/implosion (cults?) or they have virtually no boundaries which permit a deluge from the "outside" , levelling and soddening everything inside and out (democracies?). Agazarian theory is under the rubric of what is called Group-as-a-Whole theory; just to give some of you an important key-word for a search or whatever


How we as a group learn to manage lurkers, flamers, spammers, or just generally members having a cranky day IS an issue of interest to the study of net dynamics. Mismanagement of affect, affective intolerance, or the lack of protective "rules" (carefully laid down and flexible as the group grow in the skills of affect management) might be what distinguishes an "effective" group from an "ineffective" group; or a thriving group from a dying group.
Individuality is about each of us. It can't be separated out from the group either. Did Bion understand this? (Don't see this group headed toward group think or consensus or a grandiose *WE* which is okay by me.;-}
Boundary functions are probably the most imfluential factor in understanding and managing or at least surviving group processes. It isn't a surprise to me that relatively small deviations in the functional boundaries arouse intense and rather primitive feelings among a subgroup of members
What you're describing seems consistent with my contention that it is often useful to analogize groups with biological organisms or some other type of self-defining system. Group member roles must be seen as both a result of and a stimulant to, other group member roles.
Now, I think we agree that changes in the group really might not matter as one group will pretty much follow the dynamics of another group. And groups in cyberspace will pretty much follow F2F groups, as you suggested, this has yet to be disproven, but what I doubt, is the ability for the group to _advance_ through the developmental process due to an ever changing membership unless we consider some alternate methodologies.
Consider that if groups do indeed behave as virtual entities, then insights can be gained by analyzing them as as one would an individual.
'group think' can be both driven by instinctual needs, say for survival.
My guess is that any chance the group has of progressing through noticable group development stages past "bid for power" depends largely on how intransient and how dedicated the "core" group is to the purposes and processes (if any) that they can agree on.
no one's hiding his/her humanity. but trying to recreate rl group interactions on the net may be counter productive.
In my discussions, I don't intend to filter out the qualitative forces at work in groups. However, I often feel the need to point out that many of our behaviors are just "simply human" behaviors that occur in many venues. Dog's tend to pant. If a group who had never seen a dog before were wondering why dog's pant after eating, it might be useful for someone to point out that dog's naturally pant and that it may not have anything to do with the food.
If we remain too "polite," we are doomed to cycle again and again through the polite stage of group development. If we encourage too much conflict, we are likely to remain in "bid-for-power." The key to progress seems to lie in allowing the group to develop its own character and flavor while exploring affinities and disaffinities. An important element in this is the development of tolerance among members of the group for an occasional behavior that is outside the emerging norms. This allows the group to explore boundaries and, in doing so, define them.
The primary thing to keep in mind is that the group is a mental construct and not a physical reality. We are not face to face although this doesn't alter the fact that the group-as-a-whole is a mental construct. It only exists for as long as we think it does and then it doesn't
What has been created here is an interaction pattern of asynchronous, individual interactions inside a structure that has no time, task or territorial boundaries per se. If you wanted nonlinear and nondeterministric, this is about as good as its gonna get.
"A system, whether it be social, personality or cultural, has a task of defining its boundaries, demarcating itself from the others, establishing its characteristics, and developing its qualities. These attributes of the identity task may be illustrated by examining trust formation (Gibb, 1978), problems of dependency and independence (Bennis & Shepard, 1956), and boundary awareness (Slater, 1966). The social system of a small group appears to evolve its own identity; it can be described by its members as having specific characteristics that distinguish it from other groups. Individuals (personality systems) can be observed reflecting on the values they hold, the kind of persons they are, and the goals that shape their lives. The basic and formative patterns of the cultural system become active in characterizing and directing the dynamics of the small group." Robert D. Boyd Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison
I can now see that the group-relations work simply must be done with some modicum of privacy, boundaries, containment, structure, knowledgeable guidance (consultant), and relatively minimal interference. We've covered each of these in our discussions, and I think fairly concluded that these variables cannot be controlled in this medium/forum.
Group-think as a normative behavior expectation. I like it. Of course, you wanted me to think that. (grin)
I am not so convinced as Ron that it is impossible to form a 'group' on the net, or that it is impossible to work together to accomplish something.. . .For the latter to occur, however, there must be some (acknowledged?) boundaries & definition of the structure (we do have both, they're just not explicit) -- some of those things Marvin has been talking about, and NetDynam has been unable to look at itself in a way which would permit this to take place.
I'd suggest that it's not an issue of whether we _can_ function as a group so much as whether we are _willing_ to do so.
Groups have semi-permeable membranes around them, just like cells. They can grow, divide, incorporate other groups, die from malnourishment or toxins. I think this is human nature, on the net as anywhere else
For me 'group dynamics' is a specific term which has to do with studying the conscious and unconscious aspects of human behavior in organizations and groups. The two areas of interest are linked; I think much of what is puzzling in organizational behavior is the result of unrecognized and unacknowledged emotional reactions on the part of the participants -- reactions which are not truly 'unconscious' but which can become available as useful information in certain circumstances.
all groups are 'psychological' groups but not all groups are 'sociological' groups.
we cannot possibly *be* a sociological group but we can cultivate the desire to be one, which I think we (I) do. But in the act of cultivating the desire to be a sociological group, we're basically just indulging our fantasies.
We have available to us a variety of languages in which to say the same thing. baD. The phantasy of the group as mother-body, within which and from which we are in a constant struggle to differentiate ourselves, each of us. The archetype of the tribe, and of the king who must die. Transformation as the destruction --phoenix-like-- of each stage to provide the energy and the material for the next stage. Projection, projective identification (i-dent-ification), the transference. The evolution of the chreod on the individual as substrate, and on the group as substrate --in fractal reiteration. Etc. (Somebody else say it more matter-of-factly?)
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