You Never Call, You Never Write…

… okay, so to be fair, me either. I think I’ve gone very socially fast-food. Most of my online communication used to be on usenet – so I had to log on, go to the group, catch up, and then post my followups or my new comments. Later, it was my website and mailing lists. Ultimately a little more work, because at the time, maintaining a website was very much a manual thing, either uploading revised files or logging onto my unix shell and making the edits live. In terms of communicating, the mailing list thing meant that the conversation came to me. I was always up on the current conversations, because I read ’em as they drifted in… In those days, my primary listserv was throttled at something like 250 messages a day – and it was not unusual for us to hit it. It seemed like the mailing lists tapered off just as web communities were starting to get big. Still a destination, I’d log in during the day, catch up on my (graphically pleasing) threads of conversation, and add any new thoughts.

Today, the website sits quiet, virtually unchanged for months, and my mailing list traffic has dropped to a trickle. See, I’ve become a bit antisocial. Not on purpose, but the job is a little more demanding, and I don’t have the time or inclination at night to make the sorts of contributions I used to make. Today, if you want to talk to me you better have an instant messenger.

It’s not that I don’t read my email or check my web communities. I still do that, but the urgency to reply is gone. I don’t view those forms of communication as an ongoing conversation the way I used to. There’s still an exchange of ideas, but if the topic seems exhausted, or I don’t have anything particularly insightful (or funny) to add, I just let it go. Want the last word? No problem.

Instant messages, on the other hand, are very immediate. You can see that I’m online, that’s why you messaged me. I feel obliged to respond. Since it’s (practically) real time, it’s easier to convey a cadence. A speaking rhythm. During the day, I’ve got my little contact list of people who are available to talk. If I’m too busy to talk, I can shut it down – taking myself off the list of available conversants. It’s very effective. What it isn’t, is very communal.

It’s strange to think of various types of internet communication as more or less social, more or less community based – after all, it’s all happening remotely. I’m sitting alone in my little office, you in your cube. We aren’t out for drinks or sitting around a big table. And yet, there is a big difference. Communicating on a bulletin board or mailing list says “I am part of your community, and my feedback, however trivial, lets you know that I’m here with you.” Updating the website says “I’m still here. I am still a creative member of this social forum.” If nothing else, it says “Don’t forget about me.” I’d hate to think that my motivation is as shallow as that, but perhaps… perhaps I’m not ready to fade away. I’m not ready to join the ranks of “where are they now” or even worse “what was the name of that guy, who did that stuff?” I’m still out here, kids. I’m still thinking, still trying to be creative – and if I have neglected to share with all of you, who I consider my friends and my social circle, I am sorry. Consider this my declaration of intent. I’m tanned, rested, and ready to party! Well, I’m back, anyway.