Monday, October 09, 2006

Conversation in the digital world

People have this enormous need to express themselves, but a limited capacity to pay attention to others. So what drives conversation? Obviously attention, because that's scarce.

Conversation is a sequence of ... um, exchanges. And an exchange, for it to be completed, requires acceptance.

Exchanges feed off attention.

In conditions of attention-scarcity, exchanges must compete among themselves for their fodder. This is the classic situation where Darwin's law of natural selection operates. Only the fittest exchanges survive, as determined by their ability to grab attention.

Therefore, conversation does not progress by any intelligent design, in either the sender's or the recipients mind. It is formed automatically by stringing together of exchanges that had the best chance of survival.

That's such a disturbing thought.


Anonymous said...

y is it a dstbg thogt?

Sunil Bajpai said...

I held the notion that we determined our conversations. And maybe we did, so far.

The internet, however, allows us intermittent exchanges with hundreds or thousands. But the conversations depend upon completely voluntary attention. It means that the nature of our conversations, and hence of our relationships is changing.

That's a fundamental kind of change. Therefore, disturbing. :-)