Communication technologies force us to explicate the implicit

“Note that insofar as participants in an encounter morally commit themselves to keeping conversational channels open and in good working order, whatever binds by virtue of system constraints will bind also by virtue of ritual ones. The satisfaction of ritual constraints safeguards not only feelings but communication, too.” Erving Goffman, Forms of Talk, p. 18

“Sincerity is incommunicable because it becomes insincere by being communicated.”
Niklas Luhmann, Social Systems, p150

Cultural processes require implicitness
Culture is traditionally described as the sedimentation of sanctioned behavior in the form of spatial order and temporal organization. Whether defined restrictively as code, or loosely as habit, these recurring patterns of behavior become embedded in culture as a shared stock of knowledge in which members participate consensually and for mutual benefit (disregarding any systemic bias or inequality). Social practices instantiate these embedded claims, but without forcing them to the surface. Cultural context thus enables interaction while constraining it to the reproduction of a shared set of familiar routines. It is this stage upon which performance takes its liberties.

Technical processes require explicitness
The introduction of technology into social interaction always makes some of the implicitness of human communication explicit. Even the most user-friendly and “transparent” technologies require users to attend to the technical “means of production” of communication, by committing some degree their attention to the successful execution of pre-determined processes, operations, functions, etc. Similarly, the undoing of face to face interaction rituals can sometimes require that users explicitly state their interests, intentions, affections, etc. with one another. What can be conveyed implicitly face to face, is forced to the surface by technology. This foregrounding of process can interfere with the spontaneity of the exchange.

These are excerpts from a set of “principles of media” I’m creating as a way of organizing my thoughts on the interventions of technologies of communication.

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