To me communication is like a bouncing ball. At least if we look at how it evolves over time in regard of its level of personality. Why? Well, it started with the most personal way: face to face communication. Then, through different mediated channels of communication, it reached its low point. Now, with the advances of the Web 2.0, personal communication reaches a new climax.
The availability and popularity of different means of communication influence how we communicate with each other. They influence what we say, how we say it, and what levels of communication we use. Back when there was no Internet, no telephone, and let’s say, when writing and reading were not common skills, communication was extremely personal. People actually had to speak to each other face to face in order to say something.
This way of communication is direct and synchronous and has always been a very powerful one. We use words to communicate a message, but at the same time we can use the pitch of our voice to shape our message. Our facial expression can strengthen or weaken the words we speak, and so can our gesture and body language.
As mediated channels of communication popped up, communication inevitably became less personal. Let’s take for example the written word or the telephone. When we write something, we only have words to express our message. These words however stand alone and might be misinterpreted by the person who reads them.
Besides, communication through text is not synchronous, which means we might write something and another person reads it at a later point of time. Through the telephone, we can still communicate synchronous, and we have words and our voice to wrap our message in. But there is no facial expression involved and we can’t use our body to express things like emotions.
With the Internet many new ways of communication have appeared to the masses, like chat, email, or simply a website. All of these channels used to be considered highly impersonal. While a chat is usually live and only entails a little time delay, email is not synchronous at all. At least not if the receiver does not check his inbox right the moment the mail was sent. Besides, communication over the Internet is extremely easy and requires neither a lot of time nor effort.
Communication somehow lost its relevance and the opportunity to communicate in such an easy way became a commodity. Websites on the other hand were always considered a powerful tool of communication. However, this communication was very much one-directional and rather informative than interactive. Personality did not use to play an important role on the Web.
This changed with the Web 2.0. It seems that suddenly, personality and interaction became a central aspect of many websites. I believe this change is partially due to technological inventions, but also to the increasing economic value of the Web. People have shifted the focus of their lives from offline to online. We ‘live’ parts of our lives on social media platforms, go shopping in our favorite webstores, read the newspaper online, and browse the Web for a new car, insurance, or even a new relationship.
This increasingly dominant position of the Web in our daily lives requires a new, a more personal way of communication. No matter how much technology we use, we stay human, and as humans we need relationships.
Relationships are based on communication and the more personal this communication, the closer our relationships. We try to compensate the lack of interpersonal relationships that we encounter through our busy lifestyles and the intense use of technologies. That’s why we get addicted to social media. That’s why we prefer personal websites over impersonal ones, why we love interaction, even if only a mediated version of it. And that’s why we perceive the Web as cosy, communicative, and personal place, rather than the gigantic and anonymous web of linked pages that it is.