[iDC] Online silence and "infomania"

David Weinberger dweinberger at gmail.com
Wed Aug 29 14:24:53 UTC 2007

Great research topic, Yoram!

I too try to reply immediately to all emails, making the same
exceptions as Robert, for  the same ethical reasons as Michel. (I try
to reply immediately because I know if I don't, I'll forget to. I have
no long tail of remembrance, unfortunately.)

At the same time, I bristle when I receive a msg that wants an
automatic acknowledgment that I've opened it, even when it's not a
commercial, spammy msg. I feel intruded upon. My reaction doesn't feel
rational or  justified, but it's a sharp and undeniable twinge.

David W.

David Weinberger
Fellow, Harvard Berkman Center
blog: www.JohoTheBlog.com
new book: www.EverythingIsMiscellaneous.com
mail: self at evident.com

On 8/29/07, R Labossiere <admin at klooj.net> wrote:
> 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',
> Michel
> On 8/28/07, Yoram Kalman <Yoram.Kalman at gmail.com> wrote:
> > Hi,
> >
> > 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? From a
> > change in the way our brains are wired? All of the above? None of the
> > above? Is this the first time humanity is facing such a challenge? Are
> > there important lessons from the past?
> >
> > Obviously, if you have other questions, comments or interesting
> > anecdotes about online silence, please send them too.
> >
> > Thanks!
> >
> > Yoram
> >
> > --
> > Yoram Kalman
> > Tel: +972 3 950 7340
> > Cell: +972 54 574 7375
> > www.kalmans.com
> >
> > _______________________________________________

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