Being part of the Soliya Compact Program was one of the requirements for the Digital literacies and intercultural learning course that I’m currently attending. However, I didn’t feel that I was doing it out of an obligation but rather I was interested in gaining this unique experience that I haven’t tried before. One of the most important skills I developed in this experience is listening skills. I was able to engage more in a type of listening that was intended to understand rather than to respond. Also, I was intimidated at first to express myself, but as time passed, it was more comfortable and easy to say what came to mind.
The Soliya Program is different from the usual communication types I normally use. For the most part, I talk with my friends overseas through Skype. When it’s a big group catch up, a lot of times we talk over each other and find trouble hearing each person at the same time. With Soliya, there’s the talk button for each person to talk and this guarantees that each person can have a chance to express themselves and be heard too. While sometimes group conversations with people can get sluggish and the video quality deteriorates because of that, I felt that the Soliya platform was especially designed for this, and any technical issues were due to individual problems with devices and connections, not due to an overall load on the system.
Other types of communications like social media groups, where the main form of communication is typing into comment boxes, are also falling flat. This is because typically you cannot see the facial expressions or initial impressions of the people you’re communicating with through typing only. In Soliya, I got the chance to talk with people as if I was seeing them face to face and know if the topic we were discussing was interesting to them or not, through how they looked. A lot of times people type out things that can be misinterpreted or misunderstood because of the phrasing and wording choice, while with seeing someone, you can clarify things more clearly, and ensure that they have received the message, the way you wanted it to be delivered.
Since a lot of the themes were based on cultural experience, I believe we didn’t side track to topics that were irrelevant or unuseful. This was good because this way, we were able to establish common grounds on a lot of topics, and everyone was involved in the conversation one way or another.
As a person who is consistently connected to the Internet and exposed to all sorts of information I learned a lot about how I communicate the information to others as well. Most of the time it is through writing, whether a blog post, or sharing the information on social media. However, this led me to think of the content I share and the kind of information I’m exposed to (that is, when I’m not searching). A lot of times if it’s a cause I’m passionate about, I follow all sorts of ways to engage people around me with that cause. I look for content, whether in the form of posts, videos etc.. that would support this cause of mine, (and I do my best to check the validity of that information too) in order to spread it. It is not always easy to seek valid information on social media, because a lot of people go on social media to share their thoughts and lots of news pages are biased, photoshopped, fake or unrealistic, one way or another. So when we were doing the weekly challenges, I stopped and made sure that whatever I was going to bring in was valid and accurate.
I also learned that I rarely engage in social media discussions unless it’s something that I have a lot of knowledge about that I feel I can add to others as well. The Soliya facilitator had us mention the topics we wanted to discuss beforehand and so we had some time to research the topics before the session. I think this was very useful to be able to come in with something to say or an insight to give, rather than spontaneously cracking open a topic that some of us might be unaware of.
There’s a lot that can be done to foster constructive communications. I think it starts with programs like Soliya, where youth from all over the world come together and have discussions and dialogues on so many levels. Preparing people for such a program is crucial too. I got the right preparation in my class before the start of the program and I think it gave me a great push on the ethics of constructive communication.
I’m not sure in what way, but it’s very important to raise awareness on the influence of social media, and how it can be used in a way that is not just jokes and games. This applies to the context of Egypt, as it is the context I am part of. People use Facebook and Twitter to share sarcastic jokes and engage in topics that not enriching and vain. So I believe it’s important to spread the culture of online discussions that are actually about useful topics, and encouraging the ethics of communication so that dialogue becomes an addition to a person’s self and knowledge base.
I’m willing to encourage people to join Soliya and to tell them that my experience in it was interesting and fruitful. At the same time, I think I’m more interested in telling others (and reminding myself) about the importance of having successful conversations on social media and how effective communication on them can contribute to a lot of human development on many levels.
Overall, the Soliya experience was new to me and I would love to repeat it again, and keep knowing people of different nationalities and backgrounds. We discussed topics like education, feminism, social and cultural celebrations, food and many more topics that were interesting to hear about. The main challenge was tech issues that myself and others faced during the sessions: some people sounded choppy, others couldn’t connect to the room right away, and this led to disturbances in the conversation sometimes. However, that is normal and expected given that we all have different circumstances and I think that didn’t affect the overall course of discussions.