[iDC] Online silence and "infomania"

R Labossiere admin at klooj.net
Wed Aug 29 14:06:56 UTC 2007

I  know several people who simply don't reply (even if I think a reply is inferred) unless a reply is specifically requested. They seem to not "get" internet protocol. That leaves me feeling they are doing that "executive" thang, letting you know that in their scheme of importance, you don't rate. But thinking about it, I think, knowing these people to be friends and pretty nice people, that my feelings are fairly unjustified. 

In terms of infomania, the question might pivot on how one classifies incoming messages. Most email is not explicit, saying neither "please reply" nor "no reply required." 

We have learned certain behaviors in other media. Generally one returns phone calls because the assumption is that a person is calling you not to give you information but because they want to actually talk to you, to converse. If that's not the case, and they are leaving you a phone message, they'll usually say something like, "You don't need to call me back, just wanted you to know." 

By contrast, with snail mail letters, one rarely replies because generally the medium is used to deliver information, not to engage in conversation. The exceptions would be legal correspondence perhaps where there is a kind of recording/documentation of "positions" going on, or personal correspondence (love letters, belles lettres).
Perhaps the issue of online silence is not really about the recipient and how they reply or don't reply, but about the sender. As a sender, I make assumptions: that the recipient will somehow just "know" how to respond; that email is more like the phone than snail mail; that email is for conversation, not information; that if I don't get a personal reply I am being snubbed. 

In fact, email is a hybrid medium, both letter and telephone, so there is more than one norm at work: some people apply the norm of letters, no reply unless specifically called for, and others the phone norm, reply because people want to engage in exchange. Given the vagaries, perhaps the email norm should be to be explicit if you want a reply. In fact, I might try testing this out on one person I know who seems to be particularly "thick" when it comes to knowing when I want to hear back and when I don't.

I myself try to reply immediately or within 24 hours to personal mail. I don't reply to spam obviously, information messages from companies or organizations, cute or funny mail forwarded by friends, fyi mail from friends, or mail from strangers that is below some line of intelligence (like where they really have made no effort to learn what I do, so are emailing like a 'shot in the dark').

Robert Labossiere

----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Michel Bauwens 
  To: Yoram Kalman 
  Cc: iDC at mailman.thing.net 
  Sent: Wednesday, August 29, 2007 7:55 AM
  Subject: Re: [iDC] Online silence and "infomania"

  Hi Yoram,

  I have a short comment on this, about the ethical aspects.

  Granted that we are all overloaded, and some more than others of course, is it not an ethical requirement to respond to one's peers? At least I attempt to directly answer every query, but if it requires extensive thought, I file it for later, where it may indeed lay fallow for quite a while, part of a 300+ to respond file which grows faster than I can respond to them. 

  But at least, I think it is important to acknowledge reception. A good example is the automatic response by Richard Stallman, which I respect as an attempt to square the circle.

  Other people, who  do not respond at all, even if I can understand the reasons, create ill feelings, as it is as if 'you don't exist', 


  On 8/28/07, Yoram Kalman <Yoram.Kalman at gmail.com> wrote:

    In my first posting to this fascinating group, I would like to introduce
    myself and my research interests, as well as suggest a topic for
    discussion. I am a PhD student researching "online silence" at the 
    Center for the Research of the Information Society at The University of
    Haifa. I am trying to define what online silence is, to understand what
    causes online silence, and to explore the consequences of online
    silence. In case you are wondering what I mean by online silence, the
    best example is a situation in which you send an email, expect an
    answer, and then days and days go by, and you do not receive an answer.
    Ever occurred to you?  J 

    One of my findings is that most email responses come very quickly, quite
    often within a few hours, and that emails that are not answered within a
    few days, are quite likely never to receive a response. I also found 
    that quite many of the cases of online silence reported by people, are
    cases in which people intended to respond but did not do so immediately,
    and this delay eventually turned into silence.

    In my research I speculate quite a lot about the reasons for this 
    asymmetric distribution of response times, and a recent paper published
    in First Monday (link below) made me question the implications of this
    asymmetry. I would be very interested in getting some perspectives from 
    this group about these implications. The paper focuses on "Infomania"
    and describes the ever increasing pressure exerted on knowledge workers
    who are trying to cope with an ever growing information (over)load, and 
    with the constant increase in frequency and obtrusiveness of
    interruptions afforded by always-on, always-next-to-us communication
    devices. Under these circumstances of an ever present flood of messages,
    is it any wonder that we either provide an immediate answer, or hardly 
    respond at all?

    Link to article: http://snipurl.com/zeldes

    What I would like to do with the help of this group is to peek into the
    future, and ask together with you a question about Infomania, and about 
    our increasing inability to respond to all of the messages we initially
    intend to respond to. Are these temporary phenomena, or are they here to
    stay? If online silence is a result of our inability to cope with
    information overload and interruptions, what might improve this
    situation? Will the solution come from culture? From technology? 

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