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.
“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. This is accompanied by a major diversification of other organisms. 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, 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.