Internet Miscommunication Part 1

I was lucky enough to be working in the networking department of an up and coming software company at the beginning of my career. As a consequence, I had access to email before most people in the world. Even then, it was apparent that email was a volatile communications medium. At first we attributed it solely to the fact that it didn’t have the benefit of the subtle back channels that facial expression, body language, tone of voice, and inflection offer our face to face communication.

Upon further reflection though, it occurs to me that we have been communicating with the written word for centuries. There was something else in play here. For instance, it was easy to send email and once you hit send, it was gone. It was easy to write a quick note. It was more like an informal conversation so it was approached with less thought than a physical letter might. It took more discipline than most of us could muster to read what we had written carefully to make sure it couldn’t be misinterpreted.

And then there was the fact that the person, or persons, with which you were communicating weren’t present to give you immediate feedback, either positive or negative. This delayed any corrections that might be made to the message until the recipient had had time to stew about it for a while. And when they had built up a head of steam, it was, again, too easy to snap back a confrontational reply without due consideration. Thus were flame wars invented.

At the time, we thought there might be something to the idea that email was only used by technical types who didn’t have the best reputation for social skills. Only time and the rise of the public internet would disprove that theory. It seems that anyone, socially adept or not, was equally capable of miscommunicating via email. And the situation just got worse when the discussion forum was invented.

I have more to say about the evolution of online interpersonal communication. So much more that I am going to post this as part one. In part two I will explore some of the unexpected social impacts that arose from the vast social networks like Facebook.

Transformation

Whenever I want to add something to my daily routine I try to find something else that I am already in the habit of doing, like brushing my teeth or walking the dog, and tying the new activity to the one that I’m already doing every day. This has worked fairly well until just recently. I’ve found that I’ve run out of time in which to add new activities.

This puts me in the awkward position of choosing. Which of the old habits is no longer achieving its purpose? Which has become complicated beyond its utility and can be trimmed some? It is surprising what a creature of habit and ritual I am. It is hard to question your routine and throw out those habits that you have outgrown.

I think it is a process of growing, shedding your cocoon so that the lighter, more essential you can emerge and glisten in the sunlight. That’s what I keep telling myself as I fumble through my routine looking for the inessential. I’ll regain my balance. It just takes thought and honesty and a touch of courage.

Monologue to My Muse

First comes the spark of imagination, a glimmer of an idea, a hint of what it might become. Next, comes the imagining of what it will be when it is finished. Then comes the deconstruction into parts that are small enough that they can be implemented. Then you pick one of the pieces, maybe the most challenging one, or maybe the one that you have the clearest idea of how to realize. You put words to paper and as quick as you begin, the plan begins to change.

The key to success, to finishing the project is to hold on to the vision of what it will become and measure each change against that vision. You write what you know. You imagine what you don’t know and then you  write that. You set it aside and move on to another piece. You see the project begin to take shape under your diligent hands. You revisit the parts that you  wrote earlier to convince yourself that they measure up to your standards. If they don’t you rewrite them.

And then one day, you are finished. You have put everything that you have got to give into it and you now have to send it out the door to be judged by those that you created it for, your readers. Your consumers. It doesn’t really matter what it is that you create, the process is much the same. You work hard. You do your best. You brook no compromise.

That’s how I imagine it goes. I’ll let you know when I finish. And I will finish. I’m stubborn that way. It may take longer than I expected but I will finish it. Just wait and see.

Where Have All the Statesmen Gone?

My daddy had a doctorate in rhetoric. He taught speech in high school. I learned much about the art of public speaking and persuasion from him. I was reviewing the article on Rhetoric on Wikipedia tonight. I was reminded of many of the mechanisms of persuasion, the syllogism, the enthymeme, ethos, pathos, and logos. These building blocks of public speaking have been taught to our public speakers and statesmen since before Aristotle wrote the book Rhetoric in ancient Greece.

When I was a boy, I could listen to the politicians of the day make speeches. I could read transcripts of their speeches in news papers and journals. I  haven’t heard any speeches lately. Our modern politicians speak in sound bites. They convince with one liners instead of well reasoned and crafted arguments. We don’t have a long enough attention span for that.

We used to have statesmen in this country. Individuals that served in the federal government because they felt it was their duty as citizens to represent their constituents and promote their interests and welfare. But somewhere along the line something changed. Now there are no statesmen. There are just self serving, greedy, puppets that do whatever their handlers tell them to.

It goes back to what I said about the eroding standards of education in a prior post. We want everything to be handed to us, predigested. We don’t want to think. We have been taught to regurgitate what we have been told. We don’t question whether it is the truth or not. Statesmen encouraged people to think about what they were saying. Our politicians just want to buy your vote with whatever empty promise they think will sway you.

I’m going to vote in the election this fall. But I sure miss the days of the statesmen. I guess that is the mark of growing older, missing the good old days of your youth. What will the youth of today miss when they grow older?

I’m Fed Up with Politics

I just read the weekly newsletter from Warren Ellis, a British science fiction writer that I follow. He is pretty depressed about the outcome of the vote on whether to leave the EU that was held this last Thursday. I don’t understand the issues well enough to have an opinion but it is clear that the country is very divided even after the vote. It feels similar to how things have felt here at home in the United States for the past decade or so.

It seems like things really started down hill when we had the contested election back in 2000. This was quickly followed by nine eleven and hurricane Katrina. I thought when Barack Obama was elected that things would be different but the right just continued to act like spoiled brats to the extent that it has inspired everyone in politics to act that way. I don’t have any confidence in any of our politicians, on either side of the aisle.

I think we’ve come to the point where any sane, rational person would be a fool to run for public office. We get the kind of politicians that we deserve. I don’t know why I continue to write about it. It is disturbing. It is what everyone is talking about. It is going to be the topic of conversation at least through the election in November. I suspect that no matter who wins the election, the other side will be whining about it after the election.

Anti-Intellectualism

Isaac Asimov was a big hero of mine when I was a kid. He was the Neil deGrasse Tyson of that era, making science a cool thing. He also wrote excellent science fiction books and stories. I came across a quote from him on Facebook the other day that got me thinking. He said, “Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'”

This is at the heart of my problem with the current political landscape. No one wants to talk about facts any more. They want to appeal to emotions and arouse irrational fear. Emotions are a survival instinct. They serve quite nicely when you are being chased by a bear and don’t have time to think about whether or not you should run. They don’t have any place as the predominant motivating factor in a political campaign.

That is where anti-intellectualism comes into play. We seem to have a strong cultural bias toward glorifying ignorance and it will ultimately be our downfall. Unless we challenge our politicians to address the issues and debate them with facts not appeals to emotion, we will continue to elect shallow talking heads that have no idea what the issues are, much less how to address them.

It’s Not Funny Anymore, Where are the REAL Candidates?

The United Kingdom just voted to leave the European Union. That is a rather extreme thing for them to do but they certainly have the right to do it. The problem is, I don’t think most UK voters really understood the underlying issues associated with this action. I’m sure I don’t understand them but from what I see as an outsider they have been subjected to an emotional campaign based on lies and half truths.

This strikes a resonant chord with me. I think that the American voters are being subjected to a very similar campaign waged by the presidential candidates. I don’t know if the UK made the correct choice but I’m almost certain that, right or wrong, they made it for the wrong reasons. I’m afraid we are about to repeat that in the United States.

I’m not happy with either candidate. I could list my reasons but I think the most important reason is that neither candidate is addressing any of the real problems that we are facing as a country. They are both putting on reality TV shows and I hate reality TV.

I’m going to vote. And, just between you and me, I’m going to be voting against the other candidate more than I am going to be voting for anyone. I don’t feel comfortable with sharing my selection online, but I do feel compelled to express my disgust with a political system that can offer up such pathetic candidates.