Friday 4 November 2011

On the impossibility of communicating using communications technology

I'm no good at communicating with people via the communications technology. Not properly anyway. The astute amongst you will already have noticed that there's an irony to this statement. But bear with me.

I'm not an old stager in many things, but on the internet I am getting there. It all began back in the mists of 2003 on October 28th, when I joined B3ta. I've seen some things since then, I can tell you. More importantly I've been active non-stop ever since on all kinds of forums, messageboards, blogs and whatever the hell sort of thing Twitter is. I've seen stuff come and go. Nothing can happen within an online community these days which doesn't leave me raising a weary but amused eyebrow and just carrying on.

One of the effects that all this time on the internet has had - and beyond a shadow of a doubt its most positive one - is the number of new friends I have made. You can't hide forever on the internet. The real you will always come out eventually. It's a great way to get to know people.

Ironically, however, it can be more of a hindrance than a help once you turn that pixelly friend into a flesh and blood one. For me personally, at least. Language is vague. Words can be imprecise. Non-verbal communication, general mood and tone are so important, frighteningly so, in fact. Even the good old-fashioned telephone pulls up short, and of course there are new ways to keep in touch being devised every single day. Each one of them is a tiger trap for the likes of me. There's just no substitute for being there. I find that it can be pretty hard to always keep pace. Which is a sugar-coated way of saying that I go insane.

Twitter, email, mesageboards and even instant messenger are one-way conversations. You have your say and then you wait. And wait and wait, sometimes. People go away, they have technical problems, other things might come up. They may just not want to talk. Whatever happens, it's talking by installments. Moods change, situations change, and the person who gets back to you may be in a very different mindset to the one you initially communicated with. And, of course, the reverse is true.

Conflict resolution has never been a strong suit with me. But this pathological desire I have to make sure everything is alright RIGHT THIS SECOND is spectacularly ill-suited to the online world. Imagine a caveman hammering away relentlessly with a bone on a rock trying to make it be what he wants it to be and you've pretty much pictured the way I go about trying to "solve" or "cure" things online. And of course, it's about as effective. Actually, no, it's LESS effective, because neither the bone or the rock are going to feel it or end up getting hurt.

You may not always get what you want from actually sitting down with someone and talking to them, but what you will always get is closure and a sure idea of exactly where everything stands, from words plus gestures and expressions, intonations and postures. Well, it's what I always get. If you don't then you may be even more muddled and messed up than I am, which is almost certainly not a good thing.

I love the internet and talking to people on it. But I think I occasionally need reminding that it's just a tool. Something which helps one to keep in touch. It's not a substitute for any kind of relationship. Recently I've not done so well at remembering that and as such I've lost a lot of the spark and frivolity which makes people want to talk to me in the first place. I truly hope that I've realised this before I've lost any friends.

People who complain the internet is just a load of people talking trivial nonsense and doing nob jokes are missing the point. It's the trivial nonsense and the nob jokes which are what give life its colour and what brings people together, more often than not to just discuss trivial nonsense and do nob jokes. I've seen what it's like, and BEEN what it's like, to be sucked into the world of Internet - Serious Business and I don't like it. Dotmund 2.0 is sometimes a maddening person to know, even to the point where you wish you didn't.

The next time anyone sees me near a computer or a mobile phone (or even a wireless telegraph) with a furrowed brow or a worried expression, feel free to hit me with a bone. Big one. Out of a mammoth's leg.

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