Mark Goldberg

Fox Group Dispatch

4 degrees of impersonal communications

It was once suggested to me that people say things in emails that they would never say to someone over the phone. And, over the phone (especially in a voice message), we seem willing to speak in ways that one would never consider saying face-to-face.

I will add that people say things in anonymous comments on blogs that add a further dimension. Perhaps it is a sign of the indifference associated with mass anonymity.

Face-to-face communications (a first degree interaction) has no record, no evidence beyond the memory of the participants. Telephony (second degree) may have a record, such as an audio voice message. Email (3rd degree) gets circulated, over and over. Thanks to search engines and web-archiving tools, the web (4th degree) offers a permanent record.

Paradoxically, we seem to take more care in communications when the conversation can most easily be private and candid. Conversely, we pay less attention to etiquette and courtesy when the audience is global and of diuturnal impact.

In the impersonal space of the cyber-world, are we seeing a deterioration of respectful social intercourse? Is it a necessary accommodation that we need to make in order to extend the accessibility of information to all?

At the risk of being called a moron (which would prove my point), I found a coincidence of these thoughts with a recent piece by Andy Rutledge:

The social aspects of social media are often as anti–social as it gets. In our online community discussions, we say things we’d never say to another face–to–face and we behave in a manner that would likely otherwise get us punched in the face. And rightly so. We’ve grown comfortable with the idea of dispensing with our subjectivity to one another. This is a very bad idea.

Much of the social media has become a venue for us to practice our most anti–social behavior and exercise our basest motivations. And we’re rewarded for this activity by the fact that others delight in engaging us at a similar level, fueling the engine.

As Michael Geist recently wrote, we need to consider the boundaries between transparency and privacy in the current environment. Etiquette and taste are changing, as they have for generations.

Just a few observations of the characteristics of a new reality. Let me don my asbestos suit as I await your comments.

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