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Chris, I think you and I may have different definitions of "on-line conversation". Yours seems to concentrate on asynchronous modalities for on-line exchange, such as LinkedIn forums and comments on blog posts.

But there are plenty of places for synchronous online conversations, such as Twitter chats, Google hangouts, etc. And I'd argue that these are fully-fledged conversations as you've defined them. This is one of the joys of the online world—we have a rich variety of connectivity forums to choose from to satisfy our own and our community needs.

For some years now I've been "meeting" most people in my professional world online first, conversing with them there, and then meeting them face-to-face at a conference or when I'm visiting their part of the world. Synchronous on-line has enriched those possibilities for me. and made it more likely that people will explore my blog and other places where my asynchronous communications reside.

Chris Rodgers

Thanks for your comment, Adrian.

Your distinction between what you are calling synchronous and asynchronous modes of on-line communication is an interesting one. However, I don't think that synchronous exchanges on line are 'synchronous enough' to merit the label conversation, in the terms that I mean.

Real conversation is embodied, with all of the visual and/or audio cues that that entails. It is not disembodied, as is inevitably the case in on-line exchanges.

I would accept and celebrate the fact that the latter are an increasingly common and important part of the communication 'package'. As you put it, these enrich the possibilities of real-world interactions. But I think that it devalues the notion of conversation to use that term to describe on-line communication.


Chris, I agree that until we get Star-Trek holodeck technology, nothing's going to beat face-to-face conversation. But for me, the concept that only f2f experience is "real conversation" goes too far.

I find that I can experience valuable connection with others even via the limitations of 140 character Twitter chats with their associated multi-second delays. Google hangouts, despite the small low-fidelity video, are even more effective.

Ultimately, I think it's important to consider the outcomes of these conversations rather than say they are not "real". They provide an inferior but very useful way for people to interact in almost real time, and this needs to be compared with the reality that the vast majority of these interactions would not occur at all if we restricted ourselves to f2f encounters. And don't I think they devalue f2f conversations; rather they encourage and prepare us for meeting in the "old-fashioned" way.

Chris Rodgers

Thanks again Adrian for continuing the conver... (oops) exchange of views.

I don't think I'm disagreeing with anything you say about the value of on-line interactions. As you point out, they can provide “valuable connection” in their own right, as well as having the potential to enhance the (future and/or past) face-to-face experiences of those taking part. Also, dependent on the system being used, the exchange might spark many more on-line interventions and/or off-line conversations. So I’m with you on all of that.

Nor, as it happens, did I say that these on-line exchanges devalue conversations. My “devalue” comment related solely to the use of the word "conversation" to describe these other modes of interaction. I was not referring to their value per se.

No doubt you’ll continue to see your on-line exchanges as conversations, which clearly works for you. My provocation is to suggest that these can never reflect the “responsive process” nature of human, conversational interaction, in all of its ‘messy’, in-the-moment complexity. Video chats can approximate to ‘in the flesh’ conversations, in the same way that phone calls can. But in both those cases the essential attribute of conversation is interactive talk – both self-talk and other-talk – through which meaning is (co-)created.

As I see it, Twitter, blogs, and other ‘written’ forms of social media do not satisfy this criterion; although they all depend on it for meaning to emerge.

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