Thursday, March 08, 2007

Getting to Know the Real You

I host a discussion group/salon/think tank once a month at my house. This past meeting we discussed how mediating communication technologies are changing social relationships. It was hit upon early that the idea of mediation in communication may imply that there is some form of communication that is not mediated so therefore immediate.

Face-to-face interaction is thought to be the most immediate form of communication since there is no layer between you and your interlocutor through which your discussion is filtered or altered. There is no telephone, fax machine, email software, chat software or other platform through which you are talking so it is said that face-to-face is immediate.

I am of the opinion that every experience is mediated if not by external technological filters then through other filters. These layers of mediation may be such things as your body or your culture. If you observe teenagers at a social gathering they seem to communicate not just through words and ideas but through gestures, fashion sense, sexual tension as well as cultural affiliations some would say to the exclusion or at least the demotion of ideas and words.

A highly intelligent, sensitive and kind teenager can be cruelly left out of the social game if they are not exhibiting a few of these other intangible filters through which they send out their signals. Those who have met people online have suggested that they get to know someone more intimately that way. So what is going on here? How does adding another layer get you closer to "the real person".

The quick answer is that there is no "real person" at the core of a human being. The person is a jumble or basket of thoughts, ideas, events, experiences, body features, opinions etc. and we can only experience and get to know another through layers of mediation, be they technological, cultural or physical. When you get to know someone through their online persona what you are doing is removing several layers of mediation and inserting another. It just happens that this technological layer emphasizes words and ideas over other signals and it is the realm of words and ideas that most will agree are paramount to understanding what it is that makes a specific person who they are.

People often complain that they become involved in a sad series of relationships with others who seem in retrospect to have been completely wrong for them. Perhaps these people are jumping the gun and judging a potential mate without proper emphasis on the features that they would admit to being more important than those that are immediately apparent. There is no privileged perspective from which to see "the real person" but there can be a matter of emphasis. If you choose to emphasize ideas and words as being deal-breakers then there is probably no better way to meet a potential mate than through technologically mediated communication.

I would argue that face-to-face communication employs much more bandwith than present forms of online communication. This is precisely why robots and artificial intelligences can't yet come close to the processing required to adequately mimic human interaction. By communicating online we lower the bandwith significantly to emphasize what may be more important to you. Of course an online meeting of the minds will not necessarily translate into a successful "first-life" relationship if the so-called chemistry isn't there, but it can lay an important groundwork from which to proceed.

It seems to have worked for these two.


Will said...

Well to be fair, while our online communications helped us to get to know each other it was the face to face contact that really made it happen.

JakeJakob said...

Without chemistry (the conglomeration of a wide bandwith of human signals) there would have been no reaction.

Me: The Sequel said...

I like online communing. It works for me because I am verbal and cerebral. It isn't for everyone though.

I can add that there is another dimension which is crucial to consider, and that is Time. It takes time to know someone, no matter what "medium" the initial interactions took place in, or how intense the chemistry was. Time is the crucible in which true bonds are forged.

Completely OT, you are on a MAc right? Are you having trouble leaving comments on Blogspot blogs w/ Firefox? I can only do so by switching to Opera. Grr.

JakeJakob said...

True: Only time will tell.

Only very rarely have I had a problem with Mac/Firefox on Blogger comments. I think often has issues on their server end. They are having difficulty keeping up with the ten thousand new blogger accounts signing up every hour.

I haven't tried Opera yet.