Backchannels and Surface Levels

The level of conversational depth with which we engage each other is on my mind today.

First backchannels. In case you are not familiar with them, they are a chat room where audience members at a seminar can chat and interact with each other while the speaker/panel is presenting. Jennifer Wagner has a post and comments here that I like.

My initial impression after being in several backchannels was that it was really neat. I could talk and participate with people who were interested in the same topic I was. It was exactly like being able to turn to the person next to me and talk about what I was seeing in a movie or TV show.

But then I thought, "Wait, I almost NEVER do that with my actual live voice during a movie, play, or TV show." I consider it respectful to the creators/presenters of the content to wait until afterwards to have that conversation. Furthermore, I hate it when people start talking to each other when I am trying to watch a show or listen to a speaker. So what was I doing in these backchannels? Were they just a way to disengage from being a listener to a degree, to tune out of the presentation so I could tune into a place where I could talk?

In 2009 versus 1999, there are more available outlets to be a talker. Blogs, video blogs, podcasts, profile pages, and all sorts of social media give us ways to broadcast our messages, our personalities, and our thoughts into the public setting, even if the public never hears it. Nobody has the time to read 99.999999% of the world's content. Most blogs (like this one) get zero comments per post. Some people may read it, but why take the time to comment when there are so many other things to go read? The onslaught of Information Overload is more prevalent now than ever, and most people talking will not be heard most of the time.

What does it all mean? I don't think this Rise Of The Talker is all-in-all a bad thing. I, like many, enjoy having more options available to me to hone in on specific authors, musicians, and content generators than ever before. But in this long tail, I see more people getting left to speak to nobody, versus listening to somebody.

Are long-form presentations and speeches are in decline in favor of more immediately conversational dynamics (e.g. chat and social media versus e-mail)? Are verbal listening attention spans shortening? Are youth learning how to communicate points faster, in shorter-form than what I grew up able to do? or are they just in a more manic communication landscape where deeper meanings are present but not as often learned due to social influences?