Friday, April 3, 2020

The uniqueness of online chat

The chat format’s astonishing durability signals the true birth of a new form of communication.

Chat is the perfect intersection of written and informal language.

Let’s consider what we know about these formats.

We can read faster than we can speak, and reading also lets us glance back and check something again, which means that writing naturally supports longer and more complex sentences: if you compare an essay and the transcript of a famous speech, the essay will have more subordinate clauses, while the speech will have more repetition. (If you’ve ever been forced to listen to a novice public speaker read an essay out loud, it’s not your fault you found it hard to follow.)

As far as speaking in general goes, the more formal it is, the fewer interruptions it has. A public speaker can reasonably expect to hold the floor for their entire designated period, and anyone else who wishes to talk must either ask permission by raising a hand, or accept the title of “heckler.”

But you can’t heckle a conversation that you’re part of already: that’s nonsensical, a back-and-forth is expected. Instead, our disparaging vocabulary goes in the other direction: a person who treats a conversation like a speech is long-winded.

So when we look at informal writing, we should expect to find both a high information density and a lot of interruptions. Or in other words, exactly what people do in chat.

Chat gets bonus extra interruptions in comparison to informal speech, because writing as a medium lets us handle those extra words.

What the chatrooms discovered was that overlapping messages weren’t a bug, they were a feature.
Source: Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language by Gretchen McCulloch

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