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Talking a Lot More

The primary use of technology is communication, but how well do we talk?

Since the advent of the Internet and digital communication, humanity has the ability to talk quite a lot more. That’s great! Brains talk a lot internally, which is why humans, with lots of brains, have tended to do well. But brains had a lot of time to develop, from smaller to bigger, from quieter to louder.

Human brains suffer abnormalities like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and depression, all of which have as one of their components a dysfunctional communication mechanism. If we don’t talk to each other right, it can cause trouble. Big trouble.

Certain disciplines, more talkative than others, such as philosophy and mathematics and law, attempted to develop protocols for talking. We have logic. We have principles of discussion. We have rules of civil and criminal procedure and other niceties of law.

But these are largely segregated. They haven’t percolated. We’re still developing, refining (and always will be) the modes of discussion, of discourse, of talk.

We should try not to be too stressed out over poor communication incidents on the internet. The forum software and topical organizations, even the ones that try to allow for the silent readers (lurkers) to assist in shaping the conversation toward more fruitful grounds, are still very basic. You often find conversations that went far away from the advertised topic very quickly. You find others that discuss aspects of the topic that seem pointless, rather than getting to the meat of the matter.

You see a lot of static between communicators. There is a general lack of compassion. People get at each other, rub the wrong way, hold grudges, miscommunicate constantly. Sometimes it feels like a mixture between a preschool and a rap battle, except the topic is neither someone’s binky nor someone’s bling.

Worse, these broken communications at higher levels can influence talk-heavy realms like politics, shaping the discourse and the patterns of thinking. Today’s disagreement over the use of the subjunctive is tomorrow’s government shutdown, or something.

Ah, but that’s what the First Amendment is all about, after all. The fact that there is some influence happening is a promising sign that the lobbyists have not quite managed to wean the leaders off of reality entirely. Unfortunately, it seems the leaks they left are to the sewer system, not to the sky.

So the good news is the fact that over time systems tend to naturally improve their communication mechanisms. They adapt. The bad news is, as far as I know there’s no telling how long it may take for the internet to improve when it comes to general communication. If you look at niches, like the Linux Kernel’s communication, some places seem to do it fairly well.

But, crucially, Mcluhan’s “medium is the message” seems to obtain (but it would be nice to see some experiments done to confirm it, anyway). So if you build a 4chan, you seem to more or less get a 4chan. If you build a Facebook, you get a Facebook. Within certain parameters, like volume of use, maybe some basic demographic features. If so, we can improve the communications as much by improving the systems as our own behaviors.

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