Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Farhad Manjoo on Google Wave’s Complexity

Farhad Manjoo on Google Wave’s Complexity: On Wave, every misspelling, half-formed sentence, and ill-advised stab at sarcasm is transmitted instantly to the other person. This behavior is so corrosive to normal conversation that you'd think it was some kind of bug. (Via Daring Fireball)

This is the silliest claim about human communication I've read in a long time. As a writer, Manjoo may be uncomfortable letting others see his communicative sausage being made. But before teletypes and their successors, "normal conversation" — face-to-face conversation — was — still is — all hesitations, false starts, disfluencies, failed attempts at humor, misheard words, losses of attention. That's what we are, that's how we work. We perceive, interpret, and think as we talk, and a lot of that is trial and error.

Manjoo complains that instant transmission of typed characters makes the typist "self conscious." Translation: I'm used to hiding what/how I'm really thinking when I communicate online, and I feel uncomfortable coming out from behind the curtain.

Answer to comments: What Manjoo wrote was at best a unwarranted generalization from his personal reaction to the feature. He made an empirically false claim about human communication; even it the claim is charitably interpreted to be only about typed communication, he cited no empirical evidence about the alleged corrosiveness. Why did he feel the need to make a sweeping generalization, instead of honestly reporting his own experience, and that of others he interviewed, and let us draw own own inferences? The disease of the current 24-hour punditry cycle is an escalation of instant assertion unsupported by evidence to demonstrate the pundit's manhood (how's that for a sweeping generalization?)

Much before the BSD talk program, there was the TENEX talk command that had the same character-at-a-time behavior and may have been the first such program I used. Personally, I didn't feel it corroded my ability to communicate, but I won't turn that into a general claim. I was using Wave editing a document a collaborator recently, and the immediate feedback was useful to what we were doing, especially the marker that showed where he was editing.

4 comments:

Charles said...

Agreed that the two sentences you cite are pretty silly. But the point about Wave is not necessarily so: The false starts that are hardly noticeable in ordinary speech may seem jarring when reproduced as text. In a similar way, a transcript of someone speech that contains all the false starts, etc., can make almost anyone look foolish. Not sure if that phenomenon happens in Wave (haven't tried it yet), but it's not a ridiculous claim on its face.

josh said...

I suggest you also try http://www.showdocument.com
useful and free web-based online collaboration tool. - josh

Simon Spero said...

The BSD talk command showed every character as it was typed.

It's main problems were ontological.
"You don't exist. Go away,"

Matt McKnight said...

I think a better way to state it is that wave removes the advantages provided by draft before send in most other forms of typed communication.