The nature of communication has undergone a substantial change in the past 20 years and the change is not over.
Email has had a profound affect on the way people keep in touch. Communications are shorted and more frequent than when letter were the norm. Response time has greatly diminished. Even as we have gotten used to email, though, the nature of communication continues to change. Instant messaging has created another method of interaction, one where the length of messages is shorter and the style of the interaction is more conversational but where it is acceptable and common to pay partial attention.
Broadcast technologies like Twitter, transform these short bursts of communication from one-to-one conversations to little news programme. We can “tune in” when we want an update or have something to say and “channel-surf” to other activities in between updates.
Sending a letter through postal mail sets up an expectation of a response that will come in days; email, in hours; instant messaging, in minutes.
New environments like virtual worlds prevent additional opportunities and challenges for communication. In such settings, there is a virtual component to the online interaction that is lacking in email or instant messaging. We can see a “body” that goes with the voice or text conversation. Affordances like this can help foster a feeling of presence and give us clues about when the other person is listening, when he or she wishes to speak and when his or her attention is directed elsewhere.
This is not say that these environments offer the same contextual cues as face-to-face communication- they do not. But there is an added dimension to interaction in these spaces that does not occur in other online contexts.
Online communication tools also have the potential to increase our awareness of the movements of our professional or social contacts. Twitter for instance in my favourite. It offers an at-a-glance update of things, people we know happen to be doing, like who is writing a new blog post, who is about to have lunch with a friend etc. In other words, it provides a sense of connectedness to and awareness of others without direct communication.