[iDC] online silence

Yoram Kalman Yoram.Kalman at gmail.com
Wed Aug 29 14:30:33 UTC 2007

Thanks, Craig, for your interest and advice.

I too was a bit worried initially that it would be difficult to say much 
about silence. I am now in the final stages of my dissertation, and have 
realized that silence is a topic that permeates almost every aspect of 
communication. Silence is ever present in literature and poetry, in 
music and in drama, in religion, in commerce, and in almost every other 
aspect of life. Academically, my dissertation is at the intersection of 
three disciplines: Communication, Information Systems and Psychology.

Specifically, the dissertation comprises three studies, the first of 
which was an attempt to define silence. The research started with an 
investigation of responsiveness in a huge (and fascinating in many ways, 
including ethically) dataset of emails released to the public as a part 
of the Enron investigation. I then went beyond email, and found out a 
mathematical uniformity that linked responsiveness in email 
communication, online classrooms, and on Google Answers. Moreover, the 
same mathematical uniformity (power law distribution) also seems to 
exist in response times in spoken dialog, in the response times to 
online surveys, and even in unexpected places like the response times to 
letters (the dataset that was researched was based on the 
correspondences of Darwin and of Einstein). This quantitative work might 
be of less interest to many in this group, but those who are interested 
in it could learn more in our paper here: 

Interestingly, the results of that first study led me to a separate 
paper (which you can also find on my website) that questions the whole 
concept of dividing communication media into synchronous and 
asynchronous media. I believe it is an outdated convention, and one that 
actually limits our view of the online world.

The other two studies (not yet published) focus more specifically on 
email communication. In one I explore silence as a nonverbal cue in 
email, and in the other I simply collect and analyze the recollections 
of people who experienced online silence, and who caused online silence. 
The analysis of this work was completed in the last few months.

I will be more than happy to elaborate more on any of these, but doing 
so here will break one of the more important rules of this type of 
conversation, which is to keep postings short!



Craig Bellamy wrote:

> Hi Yorman,
> Thanks very much for this. I think you have some good ideas here, but do 
> you think that this idea will sustain a whole PhD dissertation? A PhD is 
> a lot of work and if you are only talking about email, then you may 
> exhaust the topic very quickly.
> And you mention something very interesting in your passage. This is 
> 'information overload'. I would concentrate more on this and the 
> technical responses to this. To be very blunt, not more can be said 
> about email but a lot can be said about filtering information, which 
> defines todays web and will for quite along time. I am more interested 
> in your own silence about this.
> best,
> Craig Bellamy
>> 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
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Yoram Kalman
Tel: +972 3 950 7340
Cell: +972 54 574 7375

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