Stuart Henshall Dave Pollard asks:
Skype was one of the Top Technologies of the Year in Business 2.0’s list, and it’s wonderful, and free, so why isn’t everyone using it to extend the relationships they develop on blogs?
Why do so few people take up my (and others’, from what they tell me) invitations to call them, Skype them, IM them, to allow the iteration (back-and-forth) that is the essence of true conversation?
While I agree with
Stuart’s Dave’s overall message in the post—that we need to find more seamless ways to interconnect our various communication tools (blogs, IM, email, etc)—I’m always surprised when I see people making these kinds of assumptions about what the “best” tools are for individual communication. And the “why aren’t people using Skype” question seems like a no-brainer to me.
Stuart Dave hasn’t actually invited me to call him (or Skype him), but if he did, I’d likely be one of those people who failed to take him up on the invitation. I don’t like voice communication in many contexts. I don’t listen to phone messages for weeks at a time. (This week I finally cleared out the 18 messages that had filled up my answering machine at work, most of which were 2-3 months old.) I don’t give out my cell phone number lightly, and I often don’t answer it unless it’s my family. I use IM, but I don’t have it on all the time, and I typically restrict access to people already on my buddy list.
The telephone and IM are interrupt-driven technologies. Voice and video chat require 100% of my attention, which means I can’t use them in public places, in classrooms while my students work, or while I’m watching TV with my kids. IM is a little better, but it still requires nearly all of my attention. I realize that’s the point in many cases—in fact, I suspect it’s what Stuart values about them. I do, too, but in limited quantities, and when it’s convenient for me. And with the crazy life I’ve been leading lately, that’s not often. Full-on attention goes to my family first, my students second, and the rest of the world plays a distant third.
Not all real-time online tools are interrupt-driven. IRC flips the equation around. I have to go to it, rather than having it intrude into the few quiet spaces in my day. I can get real-time interaction on my terms, often as background rather than foreground.
I don’t want to increase the interrupt-driven aspects of my life. I have two kids—that’s enough interrupts for any human being. Add to that a bevy of students, colleagues, family members, friends, and obligations, and a general preference for having the time and space to think through my professional communication and choose the right words, and you end up with someone who doesn’t find Skype to be the “best” medium for…well…any of her current needs, really.
I’m certainly not alone in this. I’d strongly encourage Stuart, and others thinking in this space, to consider what danah has to say context about nuance and mediation. There will never be one “best” tool for communication. But smoother transitions between and among media may make it less jarring for those who prefer one mode to interact with those who prefer others.
As a side note, Stuart goes on to say:
And why, when we do make that transition, and meet someone who’s become a ‘friend’ through our blogs, is the first meeting or conversation in aother medium so awkward, even jarring?
Funny thing is, that seldom happens to me these days. Between Emerging Tech, SXSW, and my trip to Asia, I’ve met an astonishing number of people recently who I’d previously known only online. And in almost no case was that encounter particularly jarring. I think perhaps that’s as much a function of experience as interaction media. After 20 years of using computer-mediated communication (I met both my husbands online, after all…), I think I’ve gotten better at reducing my tendency to create elaborate internal constructions of online friends. That, combined with the easy access to photos of online friends (one of the most powerful aspects of Friendster, Orkut, et al), it’s become much easier for me to transition from online acquaintance to real-world interaction. For me, at least, it’s not the voice that causes the jarring, it’s the image.
Update: Mea culpa. It was Dave Pollard, not Stuart Henshall. See what happens when I start reading content in context-free aggregator environments? :P