Gongol.com Archives: March 2023

Brian Gongol

March 19, 2023

Computers and the Internet Slow talks, one-on-one

Social media has turned out to be very good for periodic one-to-many communications. There's no better way to keep up on the occasional life updates, job changes, and vacation travelogues of past co-workers, old classmates, and other arm's-length acquaintances than to follow one another on social media. ■ Group chats, meanwhile, have been excellent for ongoing conversations among small bands of friends. Their value is revealed indirectly by the strong feelings iPhone users have about Android users trying to join their group texts. ■ Considering the social enhancements wrought by these technologies, it's too bad there hasn't been a development that enhances slow but ongoing one-to-one conversations. If you call or text a friend after a gap in time, the conversation too easily becomes a catch-up visit. The conversation sounds like a highlight reel, and promises are made that "We should visit/get together soon" or "Let's catch up sooner next time", but there's always a finality to the end of the conversation -- even if it's the classic Midwestern, "I'd better let you go". ■ The beauty of a group chat is in how it binds together a group of people with low individual effort, but with high returns to everyone. The participants are part of something together, but no individual has to carry the weight. And it is naturally open-ended; nobody closes the conversation, as it simply rolls over, unconscious of any terminal constraints. ■ But plenty of people have friendships that emerged organically between two people (or among three at most) -- too small for a true group chat, yet no less worth sustaining. Those unique one-to-one friendships came about for a reason, but the communication technologies of the modern world doesn't favor them. That's especially the case for tools like instant messenger chats that alert all parties when the others are online. ■ When a conversation reaches a natural break point, does someone need to acknowledge that with an "End of transmission" message? If no one acknowledges the break specifically, isn't it a bit like putting a telephone call on hold and never returning? ■ Maybe there is (or, rather, ought to be) a technological solution for that -- like a social media tool that only permits the user to send a short message to the other person once every two, three, or four days. Just enough to keep the parties engaged in ongoing conversation rather than sporadic information dumps on one other, but not so much as to make the maintenance of that friendship appear like a burden. ■ Lots of people do have those standalone friendships, and they're worth sustaining. In the past, those might have been sustained by occasional letters (which, by their nature, took time to transmit, thus naturally slowing the exchange to a manageable pace) or perhaps for a while by telegrams (in which brevity was enforced by economic imperative). ■ As Benjamin Franklin advised, "Be slow in choosing a friend, slower in changing." But no friendship endures without at least a little care and attention. Considering the amount of value imparted to the other friendship types by other technological tools, there ought to be room for a tool to facilitate "metered chat" between friends who see value in remaining in unforced -- and unimposing -- contact with one another.

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