Pop Culture

Communication, the Digital Way

I liken the Internet to a huge mall full of stores and kiosks peddling every single item you can think of to a never-ending supply of customers. I bet the entrepreneurs looking to make their millions through this medium share my vision.   But one thing baffles me.

Online you can window shop; you can browse through the stores; you can spend hours reading material for free or you can purchase a wagon load of stuff and have it shipped to your door step. If you’re inclined, you can even set up shop yourself. You can sell it or give it away; it’s your choice. It’s truly a wonderful, magical shopping center, isn’t it?

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Yet, picture if you will, this scenario:   While seated in the mall food court, I over hear a rousing debate on the state of health care in America. Armed with a well-informed mind and my clearly superior opinions, I saunter over to the table and boldly let everyone know what I think about the subject. After having my say, I promptly walk away, never to be seen again. If I did this in real life, people would dismiss me as a lunatic. At the very least what I’ve said would most likely be ignored as the rantings of a mad woman. But think about it – doesn’t this happen online every single day?

On any given day, there are millions of conversations taking place on blogs, online magazines, in forums, in the comment section of Youtube and Facebook, on Tumblr  and of course let’s not forget about Twitter. People are sharing thoughts all up and down the Internet and at any given moment anyone, ANYONE can chime in and make a comment. If I put a picture up, a random stranger can happen by and say, “Hey, cute pic.” Comments are made on the hit and run and oftentimes the person is never heard from again. I  often watch Youtube arguments  ensue in amazement. The comments are sometime hours, days, weeks, even years apart. It’s not the natural way of speaking, is it? Can it even be called communication?

Face to face, we digest what a person is saying in real time and respond accordingly. A real time conversation is not subject to changing moods, life circumstances or interest. A person doesn’t have the luxury of days to come up with a witty, cutting reply. If a person wants to delay, end or continue a conversation on a later date, there’s usually some mutual agreement to do so. But that is not so online. Conversations end when people want it to end, abruptly and definitively. People come into an online conversation and boldly address one person and complete ignore everyone else. If you did this in real life, it would be considered beyond rude. I’ve read comments online where it is fairly obvious that a person has chimed into a “conversation” when they haven’t even bothered to read the comments that were made beforehand. Isn’t that kind of like walking into a room where people are conversing and speaking without understanding just exactly what is being discussed?  But it’s pretty commonplace to read something online, comment and never read the other comments to hear what others have to say. In a public place in real life, if there’s a discussion going on, we afford others the courtesy of listening to what they have to say. Online, we can completely ignore them. It makes me wonder, do we comment online because we want to communicate or because we just want to “hear ourselves talk”?

I really wonder about this. I wonder if we leave comments online even wanting or expecting an answer. Are our comments self-serving, like a person who steps up to a podium to have their say at a public town hall meeting? Yesterday I left a comment on a review of the movie, Something Borrowed, letting everyone know how much I hated it. Perhaps my comment will stand alone, a dire warning to unsuspecting viewers who might even think about going to see it. But I’m realistic; some crazy person might disagree with me and challenge the precise, step-by-step description I left stating exactly why it was a stupid movie with a stupid script,  but I’ll never know. I can’t even remember where I went! Yes, I left an email, but I’m afraid I’ve got a bunch of those and I don’t always check them regularly. If someone responds to my comment asking me a question, they’ll be waiting for a long time.

Sometimes I come across an article and there are pages and pages of comments, so many the thought of reading through them is such a daunting task,  I  don’t blame a person for passing on it. But sometimes I read the comments and find rare gems of intellectual insight, and I’m glad I read them. Maybe comments online are really intended just to be a virtual nod to the author/poster, I read your piece/watched your video/looked at your picture and I’m leaving this comment so you will know it. But sometimes I read the comments and I don’t believe half the people commenting even read the full article or watched the video! In our fast-paced, hustle-and-bustle society, I think there are quite a few people actually skipping through the Internet on their PDAs, calling out random comments here or there, and I think by the time they get to where they’re going, they might even have forgotten half of those comments!

Should we take the majority of the comments we read online seriously or should we dismiss them as random passing thoughts or sound bites?

I wonder about older posts and entries; if I come across an old entry somewhere that strikes my interest, should I go ahead and make a comment and hope I’m not just talking to myself?

What about changing views?  The mindset that a person has one day may be totally different the next. Let’s say a person revisits a conversation they were having earlier in the week, the month, the year; they’ll  be held accountable to their words, won’t they? I’ve seen people do this, especially in forums: In the middle of a discussion one person will make a point. The other will do a quick search, find a sentence that the person said two years ago and say, “Didn’t you say this in 2009? Ha! Now look at you, you flip-flopper!” You don’t really get to do that in real life, do you?

I suppose we regular folks are getting our comeuppance. Many of us have wondered onto the Super Information Highway and realized, much to our dismay, that like celebrities, our sometimes solicited, often freely, eagerly offered thoughts are being recorded and held up to scrutiny under a microscope, the same scrutiny we’ve held famous people to. Yet, sometimes we just said what we were thinking at the moment.  I’ve read things I wrote when I was in my 20s that seem alien to me. I just don’t even know where my mind was because I  think 100% differently about the topic now. I’ve read conversations that I had online when I was at a different place in my life and I don’t recognize myself. When I go back and revisit them, I’m emotionally detached and clearheaded where I wasn’t before so the conversation reads differently.

What do you think about comments? Everyone with an Internet blog, forum, or page wants them; people put up videos and pictures, they write articles, stories and essays and video tape themselves doing all sorts of things hoping lots of people will comment – but is anyone really listening?

One reply on “Communication, the Digital Way”

This is a really interesting piece. I like the fact that you’re a deep thinker and you ask people to stretch their ideas and the way they look at things! What do I think about comments? I think some eople just leave like their calling card on articles and probably don’t think about what they’re saying at all. I also think a lot of people put a lot of thought into what they respond but then don’t think about it at all later. Plus you know there are a lot of people who are not online so this kinda got me thinking about all the ways that the interenet is kinda like a bias view of society where large segments of our population don’t really have a voice.

I think that most of the time if a person agrees they don’t comment but if something pisses them off (I just commented on another article here where that’s the case) they wanna argue it out and that kinda leaves a bad taste in your mouth and you get the impression that the internet is a place where people just wanna leave one liners and argue all the time.
You’re right about Youtube though :) :) :)

Is anyone really listening? I think Sabine that there are lots of people who are but they get drowned out by the loud obnoxious ones!!!!
Another good article. Keep up the good work!

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