by Robert E. Rogoff
Computer-mediated communication, as this form of interaction was once known way back about five years ago, is intrinsically peculiar in that it combines an exaggerated sense of intimate communication with an exaggerated sense of anonymity.
This form of communication is what McLuhan would have called a "cold medium." Cognitive holes get filled in by pre-existing cognitive templates.
By its nature, computer-mediated communication distorts interpersonal relationships. Verbal and nonverbal cues are generally nonexistent. So, people form mental pictures of their online correspondents that necessarily have holes. The holes get filled based on preconceived notions, prior experiences, imaginations, wishes, desires, dreams.
In some subjective definition of 'now', this is being read right 'now' by people none of us can possibly be aware of. Here in another subjective 'now' closer to the actual time I type this, we can't possibly be aware of those people because they haven't been born yet.
Digital communications are not time-bound. I type this as a reflection of random thoughts and opinions formed 'now' yet this is likely being read by people--or preter-people--at one or more subsequent 'nows'.
Over time, people change, and people change their minds. But beyond that, over time, shades of meaning change; connotations I didn't even mean to imply will be read into this as given.
I remember thinking, before actually experiencing the awe and mystery called Usenet and the Web, that the internet would be something like the way it was depicted in Ender's Game, or Brin's Earth. Perhaps you'll excuse me for being more cynical than some about the nature of the usefulness of information found on the net or the community of people on such places as Usenet newsgroups or here at sff.net when you factor in that I was as close as possible, given my situation, to having been an early adopter of this brave new communications network. I've only been on the net since 1994, but I've been online in some form since around 1988. The net as it exists today is more like the net of a million lies in Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep than it is the virtual library in Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash.
In other words, the internet might just be the first example of something that doesn't follow Sturgeon's law in that the percentage of crud on it is probably higher than ninety percent.
One of the most important things a person must learn in order to function in our society is how to evaluate the reliability of information, based on whatever algorithm works for them.
Unfortunately, the time-honored procedure for this--considering the source--is not as useful as it once was in many cases because it's no longer possible for any person or institution to have access to, and expert understanding of, all relevant background knowledge.
Rumors have always had power to topple ongoing concerns. The difference now is of increased speed with which a meme can replicate through a culture and increased numbers of possible vectors to transmit a meme.
Copyright © 1994-2008 Robert E. Rogoff. All rights reserved.