I had a silly thought last night on the way home from a delightful evening full of friends, synagogue and the great outdoors. You know that phenomenon where you go up to a person and ask them, “How is [thing I read about on Facebook/LJ/Twitter/etc.] coming along?” Or when someone says to you, “So, [thing] is happening,” and you say, “Yeah, I read about [thing] on Facebook. So did she end up talking to you or not?” It might seem a little bit awkward. You may feel slightly stalkerish. Some may feel it takes away from the great discovery process that is human conversation, because we come into it with a hoard of backstory scraped from tweets, statuses and blog entries. What’s the point of talking to people anymore? We already know everything, right?

But, think about the web. If I type, “I went to synagogue last night,” that tells you a lot less than if I type, “I went to synagogue last night.” Sure, I could tack on to the first sentence, “I went to synagogue at Eitz Chayim in Cambridge last night,” but by providing the link, I offer the reader infinite possibilities to learn as much or as little about where I went to synagogue last night.

When Tim Berners-Lee conceived of hypertext as a way to connect and transfer stores of information through an easily navigable format, he certainly didn’t think about blogging or Twitter in particular, but he was laying the groundwork and probably wouldn’t be shocked if one of us went back in time to 1990 and told him about Facebook. “Information Management” was the name of Berners-Lee’s proposal, and we are still exploring that topic today, coming out with additional proposals for what the next iteration of hypertext will be, and how we will use it.

And I don’t just mean the web gurus; with hypertext and online communication becoming so integrated into our everyday lives, information management is something we all practice everyday. As the edges of our online lives and our offline lives begin to bleed into one another, the distinction grows more fuzzy: it’s just life. So, in this era of statuses and tweets and all the rest, where we know all about our friends’ weekends before Monday morning dawns, isn’t it just a version of hypertext? Maybe it’s hypertext in reverse, actually, as we may know a lot of the story from having clicked-through, so to speak, prior to the actual conversation. And by the time we get together, face-to-face, to talk about it, each side already has a depth of understanding that allows the conversation to delve even deeper, or veer off to other topics.  We refer to each other’s statuses, and the comments on those statuses, the offline conversations that have built up to this moment. Our engagements are more informed, more colored. I don’t like to think that we are losing something by learning the minutiae (as well as the macrutiae) of each other’s lives online. It doesn’t undermine the irreplaceable value of in-person interaction. It’s just a new way to have the conversation.

So don’t worry. You’re not being creepy. You’re just hypertalking.

Image courtesy of Ethan Hein and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.


2 responses to “Hypertalk

  1. Good topic…that came up more than once in conversation last night with some friends, who knew via FB statuses that a friend had lost a job (but didn’t know he got a new one) and that our friend’s wife had some form of surgery (but no specifics as to what).

    • I hadn’t even thought of those more dramatic instances. Those are a bit more fuzzy, because sometimes people feel insulted or hurt that they learn about things online before they learn it in person… but I guess it raises all sorts of questions. Because, if you have some major change in your life and you make a reference to it online, is that OK or are you supposed to withhold all online commentary before you have told everyone the news in person?

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