Cyber life

tin cans - pre-cyber talk
In my last blog I talked about the fascinating character of Lisbeth Salander in the Larsson trilogy. She presented to the ‘real’ world as an autistic individual unable to communicate satisfactorily with those around her. Her cyber self was altogether different and showed her to be at ease communicating in this way. I guess I have become tired of the clichés of distaste which accompany the dismissal of social networking –

no one writes any letters any more; no one uses the phone for a chat its just texting; Facebook has stopped people talking. Putting aside the fact that phones were once a new form of communicating which disrupted ordinary conversation why does this debate need to be conducted as if one medium cancels out or invalidates another. As someone called Clifford Stoll suggests – ‘The Internet is a telephone system that’s gotten uppity’. And why not!!

I used to like writing letters, I thought it therapeutic and enabled me to engage with friends, over an extended time period, in discussions. But the simple fact is that no one does this much anyone. We may get a christmas letter about the past year (and they are sometimes treated with derision, though I persoanlly enjoy them) but the chances of receiving a letter or sitting down to write one is diminishing by the day. There is a simple and obvious logic to this – the advent of email has fostered the revival of “the familiar letter.” We can now raise a point, engage in an argument and communicate an idea immediately it springs to mind and even receive a reply the same day. The fact that sometimes email communication sits for some days before it is responded to, apes the older letter format and remains just as infuriating as we awaited a response in times past. Maybe we are more impatient but I suspect we always bemoaned the failure of that letter to drop through the letter-box just as much as we search for a reply in our Outlook – the response matters.

I think email has the potential to make communication more single issue and maybe that makes it a little disjointed though perhaps more focused as a result. Long emails in my experience can get left on the shelf and points can be ignored as if the reader cannot digest more than one point at a time. But that is an adaptation to the medium rather than a critique.

I do find emails have a personality too just as much as letters once did. You can see the writer in their prose and I find this fascinating. Emails can be vitriolic as well. I don’t know whether this is a product of its immediacy or carelessness in production. An angry thought communicated and clicked on its way before recanting is easily possible. I know I have learnt to measure my responses when feeling angry about an issue. My poor typing skills help this as I always read an email carefully before sending it off thus allowing for moderation of language and impact. Though equally the power to send a withering email when deserved can have the intended magnificent impact on its receiver.

Sometimes too maybe an email can free communication a little, enable a feeling to be expressed which when you are with someone becomes toned down or made ‘reasonable’. Some people would argue that unless you can say things face-to-face you should not use the medium of email to convey those ideas. Where do we draw a line? – announcement of deaths or serious illness, arguments over love and relationships, a crucial business disagreement, or a response to an equally challenging email? I think I have now received emails on all these counts and sometimes it feels right and sometimes it feels inappropriate. I would take a relativist view of this – there are times when emails can communicate an idea, even an important and devastating piece of information, which otherwise would be lost or wait too long for the receiver to hear the news such that other forms of passive communication would intervene anyway. I got to hear of the death of a close colleague by email. The person sending it knew that I would want to know straightaway and did not have the means to telephone as I was 6000 miles away in Hong Kong and at the time in bed asleep. I was glad I got the news early and could react to it and be at the funeral – time might have lost this opportunity.

too many choices?
If email is the new letter then what do the likes of social networking offer – chatrooms, Facebook, blogs, twitter etc etc and are they really as bad for us as many would dismissively believe. Why do so many people seem to react to change by resistance and dismissal? All changes in forms of communication are a threat to existing means of communication but they are also a challenge of adaptation and moving on. I like talking and no amount of new technologies will stop that process. But I cannot talk to lots of my friends very often whilst I am far away. I can in an instant see my son online and call him up and communicate. Sometimes its just a chat room engagement, sometimes we go to Skype or Yahoo or MSN and see each other through video and hear each other. This would be so much more difficult if it relied just on traditional means. Sure we could make elaborate arrangements to have a phone conversation but it would have been expensive and sometimes it becomes stilted as though we now have the means to communicate we may no longer have the will or the interest. The spontaneity of virtual communication is its major strength. We can say what we feel now when the opportunity is there and not have to contrive contact. Sure this may lead to lots of somewhat banal and meaningless conversations and I do believe that the Facebook statuses which invite pity from their friends is not insightful reading. You must know how this goes:

Status: I feel shit today

 Reply A: What’s up, hon hope you are ok?

Reply: I’m ok but i hate some people.

Reply B: Oh darling don’t worry I am here for you?

Reply C: Me too.

etc etc. Here the communication is forced on you as a mate – what will they think of me if I don’t reply. On reflection though is this not how we elicit support from friends when we see them anyway – by looking glum or bursting into tears. Is it so much different in impact even if the means has changed?

I do find the humour of social networking really helpful in a busy day. Five minutes on Facebook and seeing or taking part in some very clever wit and repartee brings a smile to the face and helps renew the daily work effort. Yes so does someone popping their head around the door too, relieve the boredom of the day but my point is this – one medium is not necessarily by definition better than another – in fact you can get the best of both worlds by engaging in them all.

Back to Lisbeth Salander. A lot of people find communication difficult, maybe not to the extent of her response but nevertheless some people are quiet in social settings and find it difficult always to get their point across. Maybe what social networking really does is open up methods of communication so that you find the medium which suits you best. It may be that texting or emailing is not the best way to communicate something but the fact that you have communicated is better than leaving unsaid something which was important to you.

On my 21st birthday I was drinking in the bar with my close friends and enjoying the evening. I received a telegram from a close friend unable to be there. Many people will not know what a telegram is now. It was a primitive form of texting, expensive and inconvenient but the only quick means of getting in touch. Imagine being 21 today and the flood of congratulations are potentially immense – emails; Facebook, texts, phones, tweets, all add to the enjoyment and immediacyof that occasion. I want to make all forms of communication work with each other and complement each other. I am trying blogging and it is slow to get comments and responses but I am enjoying reflecting in different ways, increasing the sum of the ways I can be in touch.

STATUS: happy to communicate in whatever way is possible!!



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