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Airing Your Dirty Laundry

These days it’s easy to air your views online, and get lots of feedback from it.

But what about those who like airing their dirty laundry? We give www.sidetaker.com the once-over.

Social networking makes public debate as easy as clicking a button. Facebook is the place to post an opinion and watch the ripple effect, while the popularity of MySpace makes it more ‘our space’ than yours alone. And whether you’re on Bebo or Blueworld, anyone online can give their Web2.0 cents worth if they’re your ‘friend’. Sometimes, even if they aren’t.

Online social networking just got an upgrade. Or is that a downgrade? www.sidetaker.com is a new social networking website that allows the world to take sides in your fights.

If you’ve had a fight with your man, best friend, relative or colleague, you can air your side of the story and then read who thinks what. It’s unsolicited, unmonitored and unedited. It may be a novel approach to online communities and problem solving, but is it wise to use?

A CYBER BOXING RING
‘Sidetaker.com could probably be viewed as a cyber boxing ring where everybody who is anybody is allowed to throw in a random punch, kind of like a hit-and-miss approach to problem solving,’ says Alexis Andraos, a psychologist at Dr. Mark Tunbridge, Mia Boon & Associates.

Andraos describes it as ‘a virtual soap-box where a virtual community may to a large extent take the moral high-ground on the personal trials and tribulations of other peoples’ lives.’ Think Jerry Springer online.

The benefits are that you get an alternative view, and might well be more inclined to listen to a stranger than to someone you know. But the drawbacks are obvious – those taking sides might give good advice, but is it really relevant?

The problem is that problems are not linear and they generally require the intervention of people. ‘The art of problem solving is essentially crafted by the ability to reach an objective understanding of any presented issue,’ continues Andraos. Constructive mediation then helps find a new way of seeing things that suits both parties. But Sidetaker.com is hardly mediation.

What gives an online user any right to make an educated decision or judgement about your dispute in the first place? On Sidetaker.com you’re dealing with words, which are only part of communication. In face-to-face arguments, memories, tones and actions also count hugely. How do you explain that your fight is about tone of voice?

‘It further encourages an external locus of control in relation to problem solving,’ says Andraos. ‘In this respect individuals using this site are not really grabbing the opportunity to actually own their problems and subsequently seek intentional and constructive ways of dealing with them. These individuals, can in my opinion, possibly become more confused and hence remain disempowered.’

MORE HARM THAN GOOD?
‘Sidetaker.com is essentially about the creation of a public forum for individuals who possibly require some kind of public audience in relation to their personal lives. I think it can be regarded as a virtual attention-seeking device and this in itself should ring some kind of warning-bell. I further think that if anything, many of the "sides" posted serve only to add fuel to the fire.’

Andraos also points out that Sidetaker.com’s quick-fix, pop-psychology thinking can also encourage ‘a very subtle form of virtual bullying rooted in the exploitation and disregard for the personal feelings and opinions of others’.

The solutions are often polarised, and don’t really allow for any mediation. In fact, polar thinking is ‘often rigid and only allows for closed, restrictive often defensive forms of communication’. The question is, are you concerned about being right, or are you concerned about sorting out the issue?

ENTERTAINING ADVICE
Online interaction goes a long way to dispelling the isolation that we live with. It’s great being an individual in a liberated world, but many of us feel we’ve lost a sense of community.

‘Websites such as Sidetaker.com can possibly be considered an attempt to break down the walls of isolationism that the age of individualism has incurred,’ says Andraos. ‘Ironically, though, these virtual pursuits at "community" are still largely egoistic in nature and thus a fairly marginal (given that they also only target a specific cyber community), perhaps superficial, if not a disintegrated approach towards authentic social connection.’

Consulting what the online Jerry Springer show might have its advantages and drawbacks, but it’s funny, insightful and a great way to monitor the intellectual and emotional abilities of online users. Or, as Andraos suggests, ‘It should be taken at face-value and be regarded as highly subjective entertainment.’

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