Saturday, November 18, 2006

I am wandering the adobe-lined streets of downtown Palo Alto; pulsating music throbs from the Noaa bar. I wander the streets searching the air for ideas.

Above all, what I wish to know is if the idea of a "close circle of friends" can be achieved through technology, for people separated in space (and, perhaps, in time). Or is the impossibility of it inherent in the technology?

Phone calls help to bridge the gap; IM too, better in some ways, worse in others. But at best, IM seems to do no better than maintain acquaintanceships, not the close friendships we are after. And the phone is only moderately successful in maintaining close friendships. What better modes are available to us?

The close circle of friends often sits literally in a circle, sits on the ground sometimes. They are forced together by some circumstance (school), and have found each other to have compatible temperaments.

The dispersed group of friends finds itself in different locations, even in different timezones. Communication is asynchronous (voicemail, email). The synchronous communications of phone or IM can be inconvenient, a source of irritation. What new or hybrid modes of communication can help here? Does the web offer us new modalities? Will traditional letter-writing be a part of it?

I'm away from home for three weeks. I leave a voicemail; my mother leaves me an email. Somehow, it is not enough - what mode of asynchronous communication would offer a greater degree of "presence"? Is asynchronous presence possible?

Does hearing and seeing constitute presence? If so, then reading and writing is a poor shadow of presence, and the phone is only half effective. Would video communications be a significant enhancement? Video conferencing, or even video mail? Or at the very least, audio email and audio comments (aumments)?

When you can actually hear a stranger speaking to you, even from half a world away, is that not the beginning of friendship?


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