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Posts Tagged ‘Flutter’

PostHeaderIcon Communication in a Tweet of a Facebook – What's all the Flutter?

I love it when I’m in the middle of a long discussion about a subject and the world catches up with me.  Last post: what kind of communication are we creating in social media and its implications for us?  Today, along comes Flutter, a humorous take on the on-going shortening of communications online.  Where Twitter is microblogging, Flutter now creates a new category called nanoblogging, which limits all communications to 26 characters.

Now, I happen to find this paraody hilarious, but even as this was happening, my old buddy from Sun/JavaSoft, Miko Matsumura – the original Java evangelist, took reductio ad absurdem even further with the term femtoblogging, which is communicating in a single character.  While he did not define the vocabulary and grammar, I assume that ! becomes I, K becomes “I’m great” but k is a simple ”I’m ok,” just to give a few examples.  Miko had 30 single character responses, all of which everyone else seemed to understand, so clearly a true language with semantics and syntax has developed.  (I am proud to say however, that my response was in full sentences and required people to actually read something – which means it was clearly out of step with current reality and no one read it. )

What femtoblogging reminds me of is the !Kung click language.  A click could be considered the equivalent of a single character in femtoblogging, but the San people who speak !Kung seem to understand it and communicate very effectively with it.  However, in click languages, clicks are more like ones and zeros – long strings of specific clicks accumulate to express complex ideas.  But that doesn’t take away the importance of the analogy.  Why would advanced civilizations with thousands of years of development of complex, deep, and profound written systems move to a form of society (socializing) which values shorter and shorter messages which by definition must contain less content?  There has to be some kind of trade-off – we have to get something in return for the “loss of signal” in our communications.  What tradeoff did the San people make and why are they still speaking a click language hundreds of years after being exposed to more robust and efficient oral communication tools (with an almost infinite combination of consonants and vowels)?

The tradeoff we make is twofold.  First, in a society where time is an increasingly valuable commodity (although that whole treadmill links to a topic for another day), learning to communicate quickly in short bursts about elements of one’s status – what I am doing and what I know or have discovered that may have use to you right now - is worth the reduction in signal volume.  The other tradeoff that makes bursty communication worthwhile is the ability to keep track of many more people over  a wider geographic range than we could previously.  So in a way, we are substituting volume for depth.  The bandwidth has not changed at all.  What has changed is that each communication requires less bandwidth and allows us to communicate with more people in parallel.

But that is a result, not a cause.  Why is communicating with more people in parallel, more immediately, of value?  I could understand that if we were talking about a marketplace or stock exchange where the freshness of information lasted only a few minutes or seconds and we needed to quickly communicate our “price” to a large number of people in real time.   But for more typical human interactions, communicating this way seems counterintuitive and ineffective.

The other question we should ask is why suddenly are these parodies of our technology arising on the same day?  Parodies evolve from real situations that have some element of the absurd in their nature which a comic can expose and explore.  They bring out something about a situation that is inherently uncomfortable for or inconsistent to us and cause us to not only look at what is making us uncomfortable but to also laugh at it. 

What oddity fundamental to the essence of  Twitter, Facebook, Flutter, and other similar sites  is making us uncomfortable, like a grain of sand in an oyster?  Why do we accept the implications of a world where communication is in short, bursty messages, and yet fear its consequences?

We’ll pick it up in the morning.

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