The Internet: facilitating miscommunication at the speed of light since the late twentieth century — Me
One thing that the Internet has brought along in its wake is ubiquitous asynchronous communication. The Internet is based on computer systems; and though that term is often defined in that context, I’m not talking about the way computers talk to each other; I’m referring to asynchronous human communication, also known as computer-mediated communication (CMC) — I recommend following that Wikipedia link since it contains much of what I want to say.
Throughout almost the entirety of human history, we’ve mostly spoken with each other face to face. One talks; the other responds. Sometimes one interrupts the other. Quite naturally, we came to accept this as the norm. In such interactions, much of the message is passed in non-verbal cues such as facial expressions and hand movements. And these, too, were the norm.
The invention of writing introduced asynchronous communication, but for a long time it was very limited, being practised only by those with the skill.
As literacy blossomed, snail mail (asynchronous) allowed many to become familiar with the idea of having to wait, sometimes a considerable time, for a response. And perhaps there might be no response at all; so one could never be sure that one’s message had even been received.
Then came telephony, one facet of which was the telephone (synchronous); but there were also telegrams, which were like snail mail in that they were one-way, with no automatic acknowledgement of receipt.
The Internet has brought with it a variety of forms of communication, each with a varying amount of synchronicity. And, more recently, communication via video has come within the reach of anyone with a dumbphone (which currently includes about half the population of the planet).
A great deal has been written about the often perfidious nature of asynchronous communication. Smileys (emoticons) can’t replace facial expressions. Nor can tone of voice be transmitted. And because these things are so deeply ingrained within us, much miscommunication ensues, especially with those unfamiliar with the technology (many’s the time my mother, bless her, has sent me an email and then almost immediately asked me in person whether I got it and what I thought of it).
Nobody likes to think they’re being ignored; it’s ingrained within us to expect a response, and it can be disconcerting if none is forthcoming. But what constitutes a ‘timely’ response in asynchronous communication? A minute? A day? A week? I have myself, on occasion, browsed through comments on old blog posts here on Wibble and have ‘necroposted‘ (and have sometimes been berated for doing so); but if the conversation is still valid, where’s the harm in it?
‘Speaking’ of blog posts, there are a couple of problems with these. One is the issue with mistakenly hitting the wrong ‘Reply’ link, and having one’s comment appear in an inappropriate location in the thread. Another is that sometimes it’s not clear where one ought to respond to a comment — this is especially true of ‘reblogs’ of another’s post, where there might be multiple threads on the same topic on different blogs.
I lost a virtual friend once, through deleting one such duplicated comment here on Wibble, and replacing it with a link to the duplicate on another blog. My erstwhile friend was outraged by what he perceived as my abuse of his freedom of speech :(
Of course, in all forms of communication it helps immensely to have a clear idea in mind of the message one wishes to impart. A case in point: much like my previous post, I’ve really got no idea where I’m going with this :)
… but, thank you for ‘listening’! Over to you…