Ventriloquist

by rthieme on July 9, 1998

Over the weekend I met a cyber-friend for the first time. I knew she had a good mind because of the speed with which she whacked back ideas, returning forehands and drop shots with equal ease. In the flesh, however, when she said things like her age or where she had lived – things she had already communicated in e-mail – they were much easier to remember. The details were embedded in the gestalt in a different way. The two personas – seminar leader and e-mail thinker – definitely connected, even meshed, but the flesh-and-blood person seemed like a ventriloquist, her e-mail in retrospect like a digital dummy.

How to back-engineer a whole person from selected text? We need lots of truth to fill in the blanks, in the absence of which we make it up. That’s why virtual organizations need lots of face time up front to establish a context in which subsequent communications can be embedded.  Without it, too many details are missed, too much sub-text disappears like the cry of an animal high above the threshold of human hearing.

Speaking of animals, this just arrived from the Dead Media Mailing List, a forum moderated by Bruce Sterling.

“In South Africa, homing pigeons have been linked to the theft of diamonds, Chris Erasmus writes in the Nairobi ‘East African.’  Officials of the Alexcor diamond-mining corporation are embroiled in a dispute with racing-pigeon owners.  Mine officials say pigeons are smuggled into mining areas by workers and laden with gemstones.  The pigeons then fly the gems out of the facility over high-security fences.”

Maybe sending e-mails is like flying diamonds out by pigeon. Diamonds look great in black bags, but they look better on real ears, real throats, real fingers.

And so does this email, my wooden friend, sitting on my knee, pretending to talk.

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