You're Talking a Lot, But You're Not Saying Anything

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How does commentary affect the world around us?

How Zero Comments–or No Response–Undermines Online Potentiality

“The unanswered email is the most significant one,” Geert Lovink proposes in Zero Comments, and I would venture that he’s right. Why? Because not to answer is as big of a statement as to answer, and perhaps even more: it is a judgment on the original email’s very existence, rendering it useless. Why send an email–or any form of communication–if not to get a response? When a missive does not produce the desired results, it’s a sign that the system of communication has broken down, resulting in a lack of communication, or at least one-way communication. This is a particular problem in systems like email, which are presumably intended to be two way.

Lovink extends this concept from emails to ideas, saying “You can have as many ideas as you want, but this does not mean they will translate into a resource.” Just as an email does not translate into communication unless it is responded to or acted upon, ideas are not useful unless they are not only communicated, but also understood, in ways that allow them to act as resources for others. The point of an idea is not to be had: it is to be shared, applied, and used to create even more new ideas.

Unfortunately, as with email, there are more ideas out there than anyone can manage to process correctly, comfortably, or competently. I suggested previously that comment-based community might be the answer to the excess of emails and ideas: only with the help of others can we manage to make sense of the information overload that suffocates us.

At the same time as we are overwhelmed with emails and ideas, so too are we overwhelmed with connections. Lovink observes: “It is impressive but useless to know that your social network puts you in connection with 371,558 ‘friends.’ At that point, friends are simply an effect of a network, not its constituent relations.” Likewise it’s useless to send/receive 300,000 emails or form 300,000 ideas if those messages cannot be processed and used by someone–no, not just someone, the right person. The semantic web and the improved automated data analysis capabilities associated with this may help overcome this disparity of messages and comprehension, but for now many messages are still useless unless received and understood by others.

As Lovink says, “the danger is ghettoization and deadening routines.” We cannot become bogged down in a world of excessive emails, ideas, “friends,” or even comments. We need to pare these inputs down or invent better ways of processing them in order for them to become useful. We need to use, not just create. Remix culture is part of this use–but we need more remixing of ideas, not just media.

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Filed under: Blogs, Commentary

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