Saturday, November 12, 2005

A stubborn medium


Instant messaging presents some interesting possibilities for communication. I have a clear memory of Michele Knobel at the IFTE conference in Melbourne doing a live i-m question and answer link-up with Colin, all bleary-eyed in a Glasgow office. We’ve been using MSN as a family network for a while now and I wanted to explore some of the frustrations with i-m which lead me to conclude that it’s rather a stubborn medium.

Earlier this week, Hannah was at her sister’s house in Ilford (East London). Now although Sammy uses MSN to talk to his family in Morocco, that evening he had a friend round – the webcam showed them talking as a sort of backdrop. Hannah was keen for us to see her new hairstyle, but I tripped over the mike cable, so apart from gesturing inanely via the webcam, I was reduced once again to writing, Hannah to shaking her curls. Nothing much was said.

At the same time, Ruth was at an internet cafĂ© in Ealing (West London). The backdrop showed the proprietor sitting god-like on a throne of a chair, surveying his heard of cash cows. Ruth had Oli in Tenerife in one window, us in another and Hannah in a third. We’re all linked up, but a multi-channel cam-chat is impossible to do. We had connection, but not much communication.

Back to Alex’s post about blogging. What sort of comparisons can be made? I-m, unlike blogging, is essentially a one-to-one medium, not particularly good at establishing or maintaining a network. For:

1. dispersed communities – obviously good at the dispersed bit, but as the examples above show, it's insufficient, on its own to, to create that network.

2. conversational desire – it seems to work quite well if you’re just writing. My experience is that the web-cam changes things…and not for the better. I wonder if this is my lack of experience, but frankly, I’d rather phone or type.

3. participation – OK, yeah, this is easy enough, but of course we are talking about synchronous online communication with all the strengths and weaknesses that has.

4. Thinking-in-progress – mm, not really. This is much more about phatic communication in my experience. Nothing wrong with that, of course.

So, at the moment, I find i-m a stubborn medium – hence the photograph of Madame Blavatsky, above.

(Incidentally, the wonderful Peggy Reynolds did an excellent radio feature on Blavatsky last December)


Kate said...

I like the pic...arent the theosophists from Sheffield?
they sound very Russian though.

Guy Merchant said...

I never heard of any Sheffield connections with theosophy, although you might be right. From what I remember Blavatsky was Russian although she died in London.