James Governor's Monkchips

Phone call, email, Twitter? A Cambrian Explosion of Comms

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Tim Bray has an interesting post today about modes of communication and discourse. It seems to me that we’re currently in a kind of Cambrian Explosion, where having puttered around for the longest time, life forms are suddenly exploding, filling niches, copying each other, creating new predator-prey dynamics, and exploiting new food sources.

Wikipedia says:

“The Cambrian explosion or Cambrian radiation describes the seemingly rapid appearance of most major groups of complex animals in the fossil record, around 530 million years ago.[1][2] This is accompanied by a major diversification of other organisms.[3] Before about 580 million years ago, most organisms were simple, comprised of individual cells occasionally organised into colonies. In the following 70-80 million years, the rate of evolution accelerated by an order of magnitude,[4] and the diversity of life began to resemble today’s.”

Its the multifarious nature of the options available that makes me question this assertion of Tim’s:

“We observe empirically that humans have little trouble deciding whether any particular message is best suited to a phone call, an email, or a Twitter post. What might be going into those decisions?”

My problem with the statement is partly with the use of “we”. Who observes empirically? Tim? What is this “we”, white man?

I am not sure that we do have “little trouble” deciding which mode to use. Certainly when it comes to Twitter and del.icio.us I quite often go bipolar before deciding on one, or just post in both.

Meanwhile many of us use email as a default (was there actually a decision in the act, or just a fall back position) when in fact a blog post might be more appropriate and or useful. As a general rule, an email explaining something, which doesn’t divulge a trade secret or an individual or corporate identity, should be blogged, as well as emailed.

Do I call or send an SMS? The answer might simply depend on what keyboard I had at hand. Tim undoubtedly asks the right question: “What might be going into those decisions?”, but I think the “little trouble deciding” is probably the arthropod in the corner.

The complexity associated with this Cambrian Explosion in communications modes makes it harder for us to decide. We end up using brands to decide for us, rather than making a “rational decision”. We stick with Twitter though not because of the brand (after all Google, the most powerful brand on the planet right now, owns Twitter “competitor” Jaiku) but because that’s where our community is. When you’re swimming in a school, you don’t really want to wander off into unknown waters where you can’t chat to your peers, your fellow solver/seekers.

photo courtesy of kevinzim.

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  1. Choosing the most suitable form of communication is not a thing that comes natural or automatic. the problem with electronic commincation, whichever form, one needs to take a step back and *not* act on impulse.

    sending a public tweet is often not the right way when putting people on the spot, which is not often immediately obvious – especilly after a glass of wine.

  2. The less synchronous, the more honest and undivided the rejoinder.

    Oratory was big in the 20th C, not only due to mass media and hundreds of “-isms”, but also because great speeches were planned asynchro and delivered synchro.

    Succinct broadcasts may be the latter-day equivalent

  3. James, I think Tim is spot on. We are filling new niches;, copying one another and become more “predatory” within the school of community. By “Predatory”, it means, – why do I take your twitter feed, or why do I take your RSS feed type of question ? Basically for information- I prey on what you feed via twitter or RSS !!

    As to what motivates us, is it still the same old ego gratification ? “I heard it first, I twittered it, I blogged it” syndrome ?? or is it becuase that’s where the community is ?? I mean if I went to turmers and placed something there nobody would read that correct ? so there is no point in posting there, rAther the community traction is limited. However, the core premise is that we are self feeding ourselves and that is a cardinal motivator of the human species. PEERIOD.

  4. Yochai Benkler (“the Wealth of Networks”) calls it a “lookee here: see for yourself” culture. I think many of us act out this mannerism, while others are a filter for the rest of the adoption curve.

    Others, which seem more prevalent in the offline corporate world, are the “summer-uppers” who have this need to explain the debates.

    I think there are many sorts, some archetypal, while the new modes of communication will create new types and methodologies

  5. Now that Digital Convergence is ubiquitous, even the mass market is ready for Communications Convergence. Look at the growth of Facebook amongst non-technical people, and Three’s Skype phone and their new “X-series”.

    Get the tools right and even my gran will be on Twitter. She already uses txt spk, something I can’t bring myself to do.

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