Remote versus face-to-face communication

Jennica Falk – Media Lab Europe


Meeting with Ivan: Right after the class I decided to send e-mail to Ivan to get us started. He was very quick to reply, obviously a well-connected person. See, I think he was in class.. A few e-mails were sent back and forth in order to coordinate our ‘date’ and decide on an activity for it. Our first idea, or Ivan’s idea I should say, was to see a movie, and use some conferencing software as a com link between us. A nice idea for an experiment, but it fell through. The movie Ivan had in mind was supposedly very bad, or made girls cry or something such, so he withdrew the suggestion. Perhaps another time. Instead we spent quite a bit of time sending e-mails back and forth, debating over what software we could use for more synchronous conversations. Ivan likes audio, and I prefer the text-based medium. In the end we found ourselves chatting over Unix talk.


Some observations: Text based media, even the somewhat synchronous ones, and to this category I would suggest to add peer-to-peer messengers such as ICQ (even Multi-User Dungeons), are less intense and less formal than audio media, allowing you to maintain semi-continuous conversations in the background or foreground of other tasks. In some ways, I have always found Unix talk to be quite similar to an audio conversation. Perhaps because the other party can see what you type as you type it, making it a quite revealing experience for both of you. As you watch the characters pop up on your screen, one by one, seeing them backspace to change a wording, errors they make, how fast or slow they type etc., it becomes really evident that there really is another person on the other end. Your touch type becomes your voice, and that can be just as intense and foreground attention demanding as an audio conversation.




Meeting with Taly: Taly and I met over the iCom. Again, this meeting took place only after a bulk of e-mail had been sent back and forth between Boston and Dublin to negotiate when and where. Within the time frame of 5 minutes, we had probably sent 3 e-mails each, containing statements like “Shall we do it now then?”, “Ok, that’s a great idea!”, “I can meet you in 5 minutes”, “Ok!”, “Ok, I am leaving now!” and so on. It was quite funny to realize.


Some observations: Perhaps because Taly is not co-located with an iCom portal, it was more important for her than for me (who sits almost right in front of the one at MLE), to sort of finalize the contract between us. After all, success comes to depend on that both parties are clear on the plan, and failure means that Taly has to go all the way back to her desk to re-negotiate. We spent some time talking about video-conferencing, which is something I am less used to than Taly. She told me that she often talks with her family members and friends in Israel using video links, and seemed generally content and comfortable with that level of  “connectedness”. I feel that I can relate to that. However, we both agreed that in some situations, such as with young children or pets, where so much of the “connectedness” with them is based on physical touch, it can be quite frustrating to have it reduced to a video/audio link. The distance between you becomes very articulated then.



Meeting with Andy Brady: Andy was my Dublin date, and we decided to go for dinner together. On Valentine’s Day :) First we went back to Andy’s house to drop off his car and have a cup of coffee before heading to the restaurant. We went to a really great tapas bar that is really popular, and they had a live tango band. Some of the guests were dancing tango between the tables, and the whole atmosphere was very cheerful without being too distracting or loud. Andy and I know each other pretty well already, so we spent the evening talking about and giving each other advice about everyday type things like work and life.


Some observations: Obviously the interactions between two people depend on the environment you are in. At least for me, a busy restaurant allows for a less formal, less intimate conversation, while the privacy of someone’s home tends to make the topic of conversation more personal. In a busy restaurant there are so many other things to look at, to comment, to distract you, whereas in the more intimate settings the conversation has to be much more ‘real-time’ so to speak, to not become boring or awkward. A tapas restaurant with tango dancers and soprano singers could perhaps be compared to a peer-to-peer messaging application, where the conversation can be either in the foreground or the background of some other tasks? *smile*, or perhaps I am just rambling by now.