The disadvantages of online conversations are well-known and can largely be reduced to the fallout that attends on a lack of physical presence — no reliable way to convey tone, an over-aggressiveness that physical presence would automatically allay, a tendency to overreact in a setting where false impressions can only be dispelled after the one with false impressions has already written a great deal based on and invested a great deal of emotional energy in said impressions, etc., etc. Yet the (potential) advantages are manifold as well: the ability to respond at greater length than is possible in live conversation, the possibility for time-lags wherein one can actually think, etc.
What is less discussed in assessments of the relative merits of online conversation are the very real disadvantages of in-person conversation, to wit: the necessity of communicating in relatively short bursts, the lack of clarity that attends impromptu formulations of ideas, the influence of physical presence in causing everyone to try to avoid sharp disagreement and maintain an artificial comity that keeps conversations from advancing, etc., etc. And there’s also the fact that in order to benefit from these conversations, you have to be physically present at a given time and place. In-person conversations are, in short, no utopia! They can be good, but they can also be a waste of time — or at the very least, they can be dissatisfying, as social pressures of various kinds keep people from getting to the heart of the issue.
One of the most amazing innovations to occur in recent years is the microblogging platform Twitter, which quickly became a way for academics to exchange ideas. What is so remarkable about this technology is the way that it rigorously combines the worst features of both online and in-person communication without any of their benefits — and adds new deficits of its own. Read the rest of this entry »