Asynchronous Social Context
June 4, 2008
The different types of synchronous and asynchronous communication are already apparent to most people. You have voice, like phone and face-to-face, and this is synchronous communication. And you have text messaging and email, which are asynchronous.
Asynchronous context (as opposed to communication) first became apparent to me when social news sites like Digg and Reddit came out. I started offering tidbits of info from these sites, and they served as minor social capital, like all news does. But they lost their value as social capital because all of my friends started to read the same sites. RSS aggregators increased the probability that we would have all read the same stories. So it became useless to bring up info from these sites because it was too commonly met with, “Oh yeah. I read that story.” And there are more personal forms of asynchronous context building, like when you read someone’s blog or bookmarks.
In the past, before digital communication gave the impression of instantaneous communication, we still had asynchronous communication through books and letter writing. Synchronous context would have been things like regional dress and vocabulary. But where was the asynchronous context? For a moment, I was tempted to think that asynchronous context didn’t exist. But it does in social structures. For instance, a fraternity, or a teacher who teaches the same books year after year. And also in stories that others tell about you.
What the web adds is an impersonal nature to context. A stranger can experience my context. Normally this was reserved for celebrities, where an obvious return was made on distributing a person’s context. Now, obtaining a person’s context is much easier and less costly.