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Mode-Switching

Written By: Usree Bhattacharya on November 18, 2008 No Comment

Email. Email. Email. Email. (switch). Text. Text. Text. (switch). Phone call/Skype? (switch). Face-to-face. (switch). Facebook wall post. Facebook wall post. Facebook message. (switch) Email. Email. Email.…You get the drift. Our daily interactions are frequently mediated through a variety of different modes. However, what’s interesting to think about is when these switches from one communicative tool to another occur; when we, as interlocutors in what are increasingly multichannel and linked conversations, make the decision to choose one communicative medium over another. [I am aware that I am here somewhat problematically using the words “channel,” “medium,” “mode,” “tool” as if they were synonymous, easily substitutable words, and…oh well.]

I’ve been tracking my own practice over the last few weeks. It seems that not all my interactions are “multichannel”; with my mother, sister, and nieces, I only use the telephone (I do, on occasion, send a “group” email to my sister, but that’s rare); with my father it’s usually a combination of email and telephone conversations. With most professors, colleagues, and students, my conversations tend to be conducted exclusively through email. However, there’s a growing group of friends and acquaintances with whom I communicate using a variety of different tools, some times all on the same day, such as Skype (voice/text/video chat); Facebook (sharing links, posting on walls, commenting on pictures, sending messages, Superpoking, etc); telephone calls; text messaging; emailing; and face to face interactions.

I seem to make the switch from email to text when there’s an issue of pressing urgency (but not enough “urgency” to warrant a phone call), such as confirming/reconfirming dinner plans with I House mates or others, catching up on someone’s day briefly, or simply in carrying on mini-conversations when I’m on the move, away from my laptop. The switch from email or texting to telephone occurs in the rarest of circumstances, when there’s too much to say and I’m too tired to type, or if it’s important to hear the emotional context behind someone’s words (an aspect which is woefully “invisible” in emails), or if it’s a question of great urgency. The switch to Facebooking occurs when I’m interested in using some of the unique features that the platform affords, such as sharing links, commenting on “statuses,” posting gifts on someone’s walls, Superpoking, dedicating songs, or making a comments: that is, communiques, that for whatever reason, I want to be rendered publicly visible.

The switch from email to Skype happens regularly only with one friend, though to be honest I should say I resort to emailing when my friend is not available on Skype, not the other way around. Our relationship is primarily mediated through Skype, and it is only when time difference or scheduling problems intervene that we resort to emailing, and then our emails are terse, primarily used to make the next Skype appointment. Even on Skype, we tend to play around with the different features, usually chatting through text (with a liberal dose of cutesy emoticons), using voice-chat only when between certain hours (The I House has certain noise curfews, which I must observe), and most rarely, video, since for me, the video is a bit too immediate). Interestingly, my friend nowadays also calls me on my cell through Skype, when there’s too much delay, or if there’s a bad connection on PC-to-PC voice chat, but I find that strangely disconcerting, and we tend to keep that to a minimum (expense is another factor here). What of face-to-face interactions? When I think about it, it seems that this particular form of communication is what I probably do least of with most of my friends, probably because so many of those dear to me live far away (shout-outs to my beloved peeps in India, Indonesia, Italy, and Germany). Even in situations where I do have face-to-face interactions, it is stunning how much we reference conversations that have already occurred via email, text, or Facebook.

As I was parting company with a friend today, when he walked away, he said “I’ll call, text.” We were a few feet away when I turned and asked, “You won’t email?” How interesting that this is how a face-to-face encounter ended?

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