Tuesday, January 25, 2011


we are playing telephone
with technology can you play
telephone without it?
Mr. Graham Bell doubts it

We had a plan: to take that childhood game called telephone--where one child begins by creating a phrase which is whispered from child to child around a circle until it gets back to the person who first uttered it and the phrase is uttered again, checked for validity with the person who initiated it, and normally quite different from the beginning words--and play that over a multi-media web, rather than whispering, to see how each technology shapes the idea over time.

One of us began by passing the initial few lines of this post to another in a note. The first person considered the pen the note was written with and the paper it was written on technology, though some might argue they are only the product of it. But this is where our project slowed. The recipient of the note wanted to mail the words to the next person. They never found the address and four days later decided simply to call instead. After that it took two more days for the final product of the project (the picture in the upper right-hand corner of this post) to be sent on.

Unlike on social media where comments on comments happen minutes after something is posted, we couldn't even pass an idea around our circle of three more than once in a week. One technology seemed so separate from the next. Even though we each posted on our facebooks and called our friends many times over the course of the week, this classroom assignment seemed distant from all that. Our phones at our hips and our profiles a few clicks away, we found it easy to have a conversation in the ways facebook and text-messaging set up for us, but failed to rise fully to the challenge of interacting all these different medias with an idea.

Since this is about communication, the last piece of our conversation couldn't help but focus on social media--using the placeholder images from facebook--the current pinnacle of media platforms by sheer traffic. They are symbols of generic-ness and anonymity as well as the fastest form of interaction technology has given us. They remind us of the compromise of personality for popularity, a small network of strongly connected friends for a large network of sparsely contacted acquaintances. New social media unifies all forms of human discourse, and fosters new and challenging forms of discussion, but might this cause our interpersonal dialogs to take on a homogenous form? When we tried to interact with each other, as well as various forms of technology in a dynamic way, the process seemed too slow and tedious.

The first step is admitting that we have a problem. While we might not be there yet, we have started to realize our potential failings in our increasingly technology-dependent world. We've failed to leverage the benefits of the diverse, multi-media tools at our fingertips, in doing so we came to terms with our over-use of single media communication. We check our Facebooks like Pavlov's dogs -- when a telephone ringtone is like the bell that they run to for nourishment. We feed ourselves with our Feeds.

Is a feed better than a conversation?
It is certainly faster.

How can we facilitate the use of multiple forms of technology to create an easily accessible, but diverse, mode of conversation? We need a platform that supports conversing almost as quickly as Facebook but challenges its posters to try new forms to communicate their ideas.
We aren't there yet.

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