bblum (bubblingbeebles) wrote,

i'll be a silent film and you'll play the organ

in keeping with my recent trend of deconstructing things i've previously taken for granted, it's time for me to talk about communication media.

recently i've been realising that just as much as whom i work / take classes with and whom i live with affects whom i end up hanging out with most often, so too does the social media i use most enthusiastically.

i tend to be pretty resistant when it comes to acknowledging that a social arrangement that previously worked fine for me has stopped being suitable, and it's been hitting me hard over the past few months now that nearly all of my close friends have gone across the country. it wasn't until tak told me explicitly that the fact that i didn't have text messaging on my telephone was inhibiting the closeness of our friendship that i realised that it wasn't always going to be that i could sit around using exclusively my most preferred modes of communication and expect to stay in the middle of a social circle. so i've been pondering a bunch on the way different communication media tend to be used, and the types of communication (in terms of subject matter and quality) that each lends itself to.

most obviously, there's in-person conversation (which i used to be only mediocre at, in terms of confidence and intimacy when it comes to one-on-one; this year i've been making a concerted effort to get better at it). the problem with it is that, without housemateship or classmateship or relationship, i've found it pretty difficult to maintain as a primary way of building friendship. (in undergrad, i tended to always have at least one, if not two, of those with each of my close friends.)

face-to-face isn't interesting in terms of the limitations it imposes, though, and besides, i've been expressing myself in text a lot longer than i've been doing so in person, so i'm really thinking about internet-based communication.

i have always preferred using IRC/AIM for basically everything. (with bitlbee, i get to use IRC and AIM indistinguishably in the same terminal window. i'll use IRC to refer to multi-person channels, and AIM to refer to private conversations.) i also sit irssi in screen on my server, so i'm constantly available even if i'm not looking at it; this lets me use it both synchronously (such as for fulfilling conversations) and asynchronously (such as for talking about classwork or organising hangings-out) as appropriate.

i tend to use IRC for feeling in touch with my social circle - it's a place to idly voice what's on my mind (and read same from others), have uninvolved conversations about same, and also to organise in-person time (group meals, etc). it takes care not to get carried away, though - for example, #cslounge (the main channel) has gotten so populated by people i don't know, turning into a complete waste of time, that i've simply quit. instead i depend on smaller sub-channels (cooking, 410 TA, and a few others), which have conversations that i almost always want to see.

it hit me this morning that i, an IRC user, bash twitter for being a complete waste of time, but it also seems like many twitter users bash IRC for exactly the same. do IRC and twitter secretly fulfill the same socialisation role? (i would still think IRC is better, if so...)

AIM is basically great. i tend to be more precise in AIM than in person, since i can see and manipulate what i'm saying before i send it, without losing the medium's synchronicity (unlike email, in which i tend to get carried away phrasing things "just right"). in general, it's also great because when i'm having a synchronous conversation, i know i have enough of my partner's attention to make it a quality exchange (although sometimes this fails, which tends to upset me greatly).

i've determined that synchronicity is almost always necessary for having Important Conversations. without it (such as in email and on livejournal), i always find myself making analyses and conclusions (i.e.) before i have all the data on whatever's at hand. it makes backtracking more difficult, and conversations always tend to feel like arguments, even when i know full well whomever i'm talking with is being completely friendly about it.

livejournal has been pretty difficult for me to figure out. it's been super hard for me to not expect to have actual friendship-building conversations on livejournal (especially since my livejournal circle is largely disjoint from my IRC circle). i've determined that it's very good for developing ideas and doing reflection (by way of encouraging me to put my thoughts out in the open), but not much else. i've been struggling with myself over whether i want to be here at all - for now, i think i still do, since i don't quite get the same satisfaction from complicated long-form expression anywhere else.

email is... interesting, since it seems more than any other medium that different people use it totally differently. ideally i could use it for having tree-shaped conversations (by way of inline replying), but the asynchronous nature makes it hard for me to know when to keep expecting to be replied to, and when to instead try to make conclusions on my own. the one place email has consistently worked for fulfilling conversation has been with my parents (which is also great because i've been wanting to deepen my relationship with them). i wonder if it's just because they have less email throughput overall.

but instead it seems like i shouldn't bother using email for anything other than organising get-togethers (and for work/research purposes, of course). the way i keep hearing people talking about how dealing with their email is so much of a chore makes me feel like sending email is an expensive operation that i shouldn't do if i don't really need to. a while ago knightofstarz was telling me about how he tries to spend as little time as possible on his email, and writes as low-quality communiques as possible, and rarely more than skims many things that show up in his inbox - that combined with the fact that smartphone email clients actively discourage inline replying (by previewing only the first line of each message, which happens to always be "On [date], [name] wrote:" if you inline reply), makes me feel like i should expect my emails to not get replied to by default.

also, the point about tree-shaped conversations is another cool one i've been thinking about. a couple weeks ago i was doing a job interview, wherein i did a coding exercise using etherpad ("multiplayer notepad"), and then we started having phone troubles, so we just finished our conversation on etherpad instead - it worked tree-style, the same way email does, but was also like AIM in that we didn't have to wait for each other to finish making a point before getting to chime in. another cool behaviour surfaced, in which we could type into different branches of the conversation tree at the same time, and they would grow at their own rates not limited by message-passing.

really, i think conversations tend to be directed acyclic graphs. i would be interested to see what a chat program would look like that modelled a conversation this way (though i'm afraid it might be too complicated to be usable).

and finally, there's texting. i recently finally threw some money at my telephone carrier to let me do text messaging, and i'm still not sure what to make of having it. i get the impression it works the same as AIM for many people, but i tend to be more reluctant to send text messages, since not being able to type at full speed makes me constantly reluctant to say anything - "it has to be really worth saying, or else i'm wasting my time to type it up", so i don't feel like it's adequate for anything fulfilling.

so, how does it work for you? which medium do you prefer to use for your close friendships, which one for organising hangings-out, which one for feeling in touch with the world? do you have any tricks that make some media easier to use than others, that most people probably don't use themselves?
Tags: expression, friendship, language, understanding
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