The internet has brought enormous advantages in communication. That’s so obvious, it’s hardly worth saying. We can talk to one another across the world in ways that would have been unimaginable even 25 years ago. In terms of speed and efficiency, communication between people has improved to a staggering degree. Through text message, email, blogs, forums, internet chat, private messaging and now ’social networking’, any 2 people in the world have many options for speaking to each other providing that they have an internet connection. This opens up the world in new and exciting ways. ‘Ordinary’ people can get their voices heard by others without having to go through the filters imposed by the professional media. While some may worry that this is causing a cacophony above which no one’s voice will be audible, I cling to the hope that this openness will be a powerful force for the democratisation of the world as we realise just how interdependent we are. This sounds very high-minded. I’m not naive about fact that the majority of internet communication probably consists of the trivial and the nasty in equal measure. It’s just that, in the end, I believe that the old cliché “It’s good to talk” has real meaning.
Although our means of communication have improved enormously, people remain the same as ever they were, prone to misunderstanding. In fact, it may be that the plethora of opportunities to communicate actually undermines our ability to communicate well. Certainly there is evidence that we overestimate just how well we understand one another, leaping to conclusions, making false assumptions and missing the point with unerring accuracy.
WordPress is a fantastic bit of software that all sorts of people have been able to extend through optional ‘plugins’. If only someone could write a misunderstanding detector, they’d be doing the blogosphere a great service. In the meantime, we’ll have to rely on the age old virtues of attentive reading, forebearance and charity.
I first published this post in January 2008, before ‘social media’ really took off. Its central point stands, I think.