[iDC] iDC digest option & online silence and "infomania"

IDC infomania digest trebor at thing.net
Wed Aug 29 16:18:35 UTC 2007

Dear all,

If the frequency of messages is becoming a bit overpowering for you,
simply switch to the iDC Digest option at:


Digest of the hour: 
Joseph Rabie, Stephen Downes, Robert Labossiere,
Yoram Klaman

message from: joe at overmydeadbody.org

I equate "online silence" with "online stress" - on
both sides, because the sender does not receive a reply, and because the
recipient has both the pressure of finding the time to reply, and the
guilt feeling of not yet having done so.


message from admin at klooj.net

one other thing occurs to me... the question of online silence is 
particularly relevent to this list I think because most of us will have 
encountered the phenomenon, in projects that are trying to develop 
communities, of low active user response. It's not that people aren't 
interested (I like to believe); in fact, many people will browse, but to 
actively participate seems to require a level of immersion (familiarity
with tools, acceptance of the time that might be involved, potential
rewards, etc.) that many users don't have or don't want to explore. This
is not, imho, actually "silence" so much as passive engagement. 
For p2p or distributed projects, this can be a major issue,
an obstacle to the realization of ideal of smart mobs, consumer
activism, participatory democracy.

Robert Labossiere

message from stephen at downes.ca


I attempt to respond to all personal email (I say 'attempt' because I 
sometimes fail). By 'personal email' I specifically exclude:
- mail from mailing lists (which *may* merit a response, but doesn't 
require one)
- spam and other commercial messages, including those personally
- bacn and other status messages from websites (which *may* merit a 
response or action)

I think it's rude not to respond to personal emails (yes, this means I 
am sometimes rude, because I sometimes fail). So I keep all personal 
email in a folder until it has been attended to (I do not delete it and 
then attempt to 'remember'). This means that although I respond to most 
personal email immediately, sometimes personal email can take months for 
a response. Usually these are emails that asked me for a longish opinion 
or to perform a task (I may send a short acknowledgment for the latter).

I have found that people (a) appreciate a response, even when it's 
delayed, and (b) are willing to pick up a discussion after a long gap 
like that as though nothing had happened.

I also do not respond to termination emails following an exchange of 
emails. These are emails that close a discussion, and hence need no 
response. My favorite reads something like, "You're absolutely
right." But you also see some like, "I guess we'll agree to disagree

-- Stephen

message from yoram.kalman at gmail.com
Robert, Michel,

both of you raise an issue which is very central to understanding online 
communication, and that is the issue of norms, and of how we *expect* 
people to behave online.

Unresponsiveness is really only one example of the complexity of these 
norms. For example, in my research I found cases in which online silence 
meant "yes, I agree", as well as cases when the same silence
was supposed to communicate, "No!" Anyone who has ever asked
people to RSVP had this experience, where some people do not respond
since they do not plan to come, while others do not respond since they
know that you know they will come, so why RSVP...

Norms about online communication do exist, but they might differ 
significantly between different users, and these differences do not 
necessarily follow the same "fault lines" we are used to in
face-to-face communication, such as gender, race, nationality,
geographical regions, etc. 

For example, some organizations have a culture of online 
responsiveness: they respond in a timely manner to emails from 
customers, co-workers, suppliers or subordinates. In other organizations 
an email is rarely acknowledged, and if one wants something done, one 
must use more traditional means such as the phone or face-to-face. If 
someone from the former type of an organization emails to someone from 
the latter type, the unresponsiveness that is likely to follow might 
result in hurt feelings, ethical interpretations and other musings of 
which the other side is absolutely unaware.

I can see where Michel is coming from in saying that it is "an
ethical requirement to respond to one's peers" but I have now
encountered many cases which made me take a more Relativistic view on
this topic. Robert's suggestion that online silence is as much about the
sender as it is about the silent recipient, is a good example of this
Relativism. I also liked Robert's attempts to draw parallels between
email and telephones, as well as mail, bringing into mind Naomi Baron's
insightful 1998 paper " Letters by phone or speech by other means:
the linguistics of email."

So, is it acceptable sometimes not to answer emails, and, is the only 
other alternative to silence, Infomania?


message #2 from yoram.kalman at gmail.com

What a great example, David! I too agree that these confirmations are 
highly intrusive, and I think twice and three times before I accept them 
(if at all). But, their intrusiveness is nothing in comparison to tools 
such as mailinfo (http://www.mailinfo.com), which actually report to the 
sender the moment you open the email. They are using the same techniques 
used by many spammers. On the other hand, aren't these technologies 
trying to solve a very real problem, which is the high uncertainty 
related to sending emails? Is it not legitimate to wish to know that my 
message was at least opened? Tom Erickson and his colleagues at IBM 
Research coined the term "social translucence," which is relevant to
this discussion.

So, are we for these confirmations, or against them?


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