Thinking About Conversations.
This afternoon, I read a blog post by David Weinberg, Are all good conversations echo chambers?. He was discussing a blog post by Bora Zivkovic, Commenting threads: good, bad, or not at all. They are both very good blog posts, well worth the read.
David spends a bit of time at the end of his post talking about theories of communication. In particular, David says
I presume that such a theory would include the notion... that conversations have aims, and that when a conversation is open to the entire world … those aims should be explicitly stated
When I talk to people about social media, I often talk about the aim. When doing social media for an organization, it is important to stay on task and make sure that the communications are inline with the organizations mission. Another key aspect to talk about is audience. Who are you communicating with? This includes understanding the motivations and abilities of your interlocutors.
On the other hand, I often talk about social media as a conversation at a party, or perhaps even at the office. It is one of the reasons I like tweets about what people had for breakfast. When I run into a friend, whether it be at work, at a conference, or wherever, I don't start off immediately with the topic I want to discuss. If I see David tomorrow, I'll probably start off by talking about how it's been a long time since I've seen him. Ask how things are going, maybe tell him a little bit about what has been going on in my life, before getting around to discussing his latest blog post.
Now you could say that part of the aim of such repartee is to strengthen rapport be the the participants. That is an aim of the beginning of a conversation. Yet it illustrates that the aim of a conversation may be very broad based and fluid.
Likewise, what is the aim of discussions around the dinner table? At the Hynes household discussions can be very wide-ranging. The aim of the discussions are perhaps primarily about having fun and enjoying one another's company. But there can be subservient aims, like learning something new or stimulating creativity.
I think this may fit into the research that Bora is writing about. The tone of the discussion in comments communicates the emerging aim of the comments. It may be for the sheer joy of flaming or troll baiting. It may be for the joy of learning something new or sparking creativity. Depending on how the comments are approached, the emerging aim may end up being closely in line with the aim of the person who wrote the blog post or vastly divergent.
With this, I want to come back to David's concern about echo chambers. It is why I've been talking about the roles of learning and creativity. Echo chambers seem to reinforce already established views as opposed to being an opportunity for learning or creativity. I'm not sure I know exactly what produces creativity, but it has always seemed to come from when very different ideas collide. We have some wonderful collisions like this around the dinner table, but I've rarely seen such collisions in echo chambers.
Will these ideas collide with those of David or Bora in any interesting way? That would be wonderful. If not, the simple joy of reconnecting virtually with some old friends might be a sufficient aim.