The following is an excerpt from a conversation between Liz Kinnamon and on 2/1/16.
i’ve been thinking today about
what if we decided on a set of rules
like the declaration of human rights
but for the internet. not etiquette exactly, but like,
“it’s okay to be brusque in your emails especially if you’re a woman; it doesn’t mean that you hate anyone or that anyone hates you” because of so much paranoia. like i’ve been thinking about how i sort of don’t even know how to read digital communication. tone
BP: yeah man. seriously. part of the problem is that i think the context shifts so much
LK: what do you mean?
BP: like pick up the phone at 4am and i’ll be like________ but at noon I might be like _______. i dunno, digital communication feels, well, like communication, in that it totally depends on a whole host of feelings, moods, moments, in order to interpret and process and understand.
yeah, but i think the problem is that the context of digital communication is…an abyss
it’s an imagined field
the context isn’t concrete at all, except perhaps the time of day—and that isn’t even set. it’s 2:30 here and 4:30 there.
BP: ok. so you’re saying that trying to determine the range of possible contexts from digital communication, or like an object of digital comm is almost impossible because there are so many? an object being like, an email
LK : yes. and because there’s not a calm body looking back at me in 3D, whose presence alone soothes me and sort of nips potential paranoias from spinning off
so determining the context of the object is like a game of squash. the context is a lot in your head.
what do you think? do you have a similar experience?
BP: sure. i think a lot of what you talking about is like talking to someone with an accent. like, i almost never get paranoid or misinterpret things that you send to me over email or text or on tumblr because, i dunno, i recognize and commune with or am down with your communication form. it’s like when I’m around someone from New Orleans or Virginia I immediately recognize and slip into usage. i don’t know if the metaphor works all the way…comfort through recognition, but in digital comm there is no set of rules or common usage that sets up a field of meaning
yes, totally, but the accent denotes region which means other kinds of shared communication habits
no set of rules—except hegemony.
right right exactly
regionality of the internet is real i think
LK: but how is it determined? how does one belong to one region and not another?
BP: i mean, it’s probably why i could immediately pick up with you afk when we met in the city for the first time. i mean i think tumblr is an example. like, sites where we congregate, where we develop certain reading and writing styles are very similar to, like, seeing a jack in the box everyday. haha. so you’re saying common usage values in order to stand in for the presence of an other, as a way of grounding context a bit.
i agree only to a certain point; many of the people we both follow have drastically disparate styles
BP: of course. of course.
LK: yeah, something like a contract that we could individually refer back to as groundrules for interacting without direct bodily presence
BP: but it isn’t the quality or content of their blogs, it’s that the habits of reading and writing on tumblr establish an interpersonal dynamic much differently than Twitter or Facebook or the comments section of an Atlantic article.
BP: right but aren’t you just privileging face to face communication?
LK: see i’m not sure, i think that might be too romantic
give me something more specifically illustrative of what you mean
and i am privileging face to face, though less face to face (cuz interspecies humanimal contestations) than bodily withness
BP: hmmmm ok. i’d argue that face to face communication is no more direct or real than digital communication and that our culture tends to put too much weight on non-verbals as truth-telling indicators within human communication. oftentimes my nonverbal listening or reacting has nothing to do with the communication that’s occurring between me and an other person. however it is an immediate form of communication and as such reactions or responses tend to be more instinctual and less reflective when compared to, say, reading an email, thinking up a response and then writing the person back. so, like, within digital communication we have to rely on other things like parlance, shorthand, form, format, to ground our understanding of the other person much the same ways the presence grounds our understanding of an other when communicating to them with the understanding that time in/of digital communication functions much differently than face to face.
BP: (i’m not suggesting we don’t reflect in face to face, but that we also don’t sit for hours thinking up a response in face to face USUALLY)
LK: sitting for hours thinking up a response face to face sounds like a great performance art piece.
LK: i’ve been reading some studies about different kinds of interpersonal communication and oxytocin. one took a group of young girls from 7-12 and subjected them to some kind of lab stressor, then separated them into four groups— after the stressor, they were allowed 1) direct interaction with a parent 2) no interaction, solitude 3) instant messages with their parent and 4) phone with their parent
BP : oh wow
LK: basically, the girls who got to interact with their parent over the phone or in person had higher levels of oxytocin and lower levels of cortisol and the ones who texted or were in solitude the inverse
LK: i might be inclined to protect digital communication similar to the way you are now, especially because so many people who inspire and interest me, and who i genuinely care for, have been via the internet and we mostly communicate that way
BP: i think that makes total sense.
LK : but i think at this point, my response to your thoughts would be to question what is meant by truth-telling via non-verbals. because i think it’s less that face-to-face tells the truth about an event or truth about a communication and more that non-verbals (and i’ll include general sentient presence here) tells the truth about withness that can be intrinsically comforting
LK: if that makes sense. and now all i want to do is make a performance piece about taking your time to respond.
BP: totally. i get that. i agree. i meant, generally, that people think nonverbal are somehow more true in that we reveal what we really think nonverbally. like, nonverbal as the manifestation of the unconscious. which isn’t always the case. yeah i mean mostly i’m generally interested in looking at digital comm as an extension of human communication rather than some less than form of communication (which i think it often gets pegged as) as a means of fostering and giving space to difference and difference-oriented modes of expression that happen in digital spaces or digital contexts.
LK: yeah, i agree unequivocally that DC can/does allow space for difference. and that physical manifestations (gestures blinking looking bored) often get misinterpreted for truth. there can be/often is a disconnect. but i’m kind of into the prospect of syncing them, to better align my communication with external signs as a service for the other, idk
BP: so like, are you trying to minimize miscommunication?
LK: yes — maybe that’s what the initial proposal is essentially about!
BP: yeah. i mean your post is so spot on about jettisoning professionalized internetting. i don’t know. reducing interference in communication is so hard because so often it has nothing to do with things we can control which runs so counter to what we think about communication which is — i think this thing, i make a message to communicate this thing, i communicate this thing.
BP: Like, that’s not communication because there’s nothing about the other person in that model at all. so much stuff out of our control. i’m running on and on. you got work to do go do it. i always think of these exchanges, as, like, just another piece of our ongoing relationship.
LK: they are. i love thinking about this together. will think more about reducing interference.