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10 Jul 2008 / Julie

Don’t vm or em me! Or how to communicate without going crazy

–Warning: Complete and total Rant. Proceed with caution.–

While reading about how no one uses voicemail (vm) anymore and how we’re all getting crushed by too much email (em) I wonder about how communication has developed over time.

Using my own life as an example (because i haven’t the energy at the moment to go digging for *actual* research/data) I’ve noticed that as we get more and more connected to each other (thank you, Internet), we’re actually getting farther and farther away from ourselves.

Here’s what I mean-
In grade school all I had was the phone and f2f (face to face) to speak to people. And the phone, i should specify, was one of the two landline, corded phones in my parents house.

In high school, IM had started popping up and for me, my communications looked like this:
* f2f during the day with people- no distractions other than school and note passing
* phone calls for both short information-driven conversations (“5pm?” “Yea.”) and long, rambling ones ([insert teenage girl here])
* IM for longer conversations- especially at night when I was supposed to be asleep, or didn’t want to bug the parents or tie up the phone line. It also (omg i love/d this) allowed me to talk to multiple people at once. BIIIG Plus. If i remember correctly, IM (ICQ, even) started big with me because I had 2 international pen pals at the time and the phone just wasn’t an option.
* email was around (i remember now-antiquated hotmail accounts) but was mainly only for amazon shipping notices and those damn fwd’s i still can’t run away from. (seriously people, stop fwding things. I don’t care that we’re boycotting ExxonMobile, or that the cute bunnies want me to have a happy day)

College, for me, was really the tipping point. The parents got me a cell phone (so they could keep tabs on me, and for “emergencies”) but it soon turned into the ubiquitous device. It was an old-skool Nokia so no webbing or apping, but it did the phone very well (i have no recollection of when txting got big with me- but somewhere in there). Suddenly, no matter where i was, if you had my phone #, i could be reached. I should have seen this as a potential problem, but at the time I viewed it more as “i can get in touch with anyone no matter where *i* am.” Ah, idealistic youth.

IM was also huge in college. We relied on AIM‘s away messages to update our “friends” on our days (early twitter?). I recall the calming (or infuriating, depending on how often it was set to go off) DING of AIM echoing down the dorm halls. And distinctly remember IMing my roommate, while sitting next to her (which, i argue, is totally different and waay less weird than *calling* the person 2 cubies over, esp when u can hear them talking into the phone as well as thru the phone).

But for the most part, unless you had a cell phone- ppl used your away messages to figure out where you were. And then, inevitably, when you returned to your computer you had a bunch of messages awaiting you. Email continued but still not at a huge “omg make it stop” rate.

Then I hit grad school. i was txting entire conversations, email had hit a need-ginormous-org-scheme level, IM had become a shadow of it’s former self (currently being revived for when i’m at work).

And then it happened. I got a job. people stopped calling (sans my parents). email worsened. txting expanded. rss feeds went berserk. I get email and the web on my phone. then there’s twitter, facebook, friendfeed, meebo, all these all-encompassing communication tools where you can either go everywhere or only one place to get it all.

Today alone I’ve had conversations in the following ways:
1. f2f
2. via the phone (actual speaking)
3. in facebook via messages
4. in facebook via poking (“gone to happy hour with you” has turned into a real life, f2f, get together)
5. in facebook via the wall
6. in twitter via twitter
7. in twitter via friendfeed
8. in twitter via mobile web on my phone
9. via google reader notes
10. via texting on my phone
11. via email on my phone
12. via email on my computer.
13. via blog comments
14. via flickr comments

And it’s only lunchtime. No wonder i feel overwhelmed.

We’re all so connected to each other- via every way possible. And depending on who you want to be in contact with, you have to be available through more than one mode. I try to get my fb ppl to email or call me (with no luck). Being in all these different places has made my brain reformat itself. I reply heavily on context- where i was, what it looked like, who was around me- to remember things. When all i remember is “i was typing to [insert name here]” i have a hell of a time trying to figure out the rest. (un)Luckily, there’s a record of all this mess, but then i have to take the time to find it… or (what i usually do), ask the person to see if they remember.

How many times does someone ask me “did you send that email to…” and i can’t remember?

The title of this post was “Don’t vm or em me! Or how to communicate without going crazy” but i have no suggestions on how to not go crazy. Nor do i have any good tips for how to control the madness.

I do want to pose another question though- is it me, or do you feel like you’re losing your *self* in all this spread-out-ness?

I think it has something to do with identity management and self branding. I’m Julie Strange. I also have half a dozen screen names of various spellings. I represent myself differently in various venues. Twitter seems to get it all, but myspace is personal (well, completely ignored, but it was personal) and facebook *was* professional. my current blog is having an identity crisis but was initially geared towards professional issues.

I also think it has something to do with the differences in representation of self through various modes. When CMC was first hitting my world through IM in high school, i was much more open and upfront and loud-mouthed about things than i was in person. In person i was very shy. Somewhere along the lines, my f2f personality started to match more my online personality. My undergraduate thesis research started out looking into this dichotomy. Were we a completely different person online than in person? Were we the same people overall, but different things shone (shined?) brighter under different circumstances?

I wonder if i’m as outgoing and brazen as i am today because of all my online communications. Did it reformat my brain? I wonder if the breakdown of traditional gender roles through CMC helped too. I’m fascinated by the fact that we used to use IRL all the time, referring to our f2f selves. Were we really 2 different instances of ourselves?

I don’t think i’m as segmented as i used to be online- but then again moreso, just in a different way. It used to be shyish Julie irl/f2f and brazen Julie online. Today i’m mostly brazen Julie both online and irl (though, perhaps still more brazen/outgoing online)

However, i’m completely segmented because of the various online places i live and how to keep up with it all. Who knows, perhaps cloning would be a good idea for me. Or perhaps i need to abandon it all and go live with a goat on a mountain in Tibet. Or maybe not Tibet.

Some serious communication control and identity management is needed here. Serious.

and for the record- if you contact me, please only do so in one medium at a time. PLEASE don’t IM and twitter me at once. I’m liable to go nuts. Then i’m not responsible. ;-)

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