Observation of a live platform: web-based human relationships

Live Web: week 1

Assignment 1.1: Find a live or synchronous site or platform online. Try it out. Describe it on your blog. How is it used? What do you find interesting about it? Come to class prepared to discuss.

Instant messaging in my time

I was born in 1994. My childhood was full of mmo rpg, virtual friends, chat rooms, MSN, and other social media that made me feel close to my friends even when I was at home, and even if I had no idea what their names and faces were. Still, my experiences with close friends moving made me think that it was very hard to maintain or create a relationship through the web.

After a good few years of not very successful friendships in the distance, it was my turn to move. It was only then, a year ago, that I understood the reality of the instant messaging platforms that shaped my relationships since childhood, and more specifically one of them which is the base to my relationship with my closest friends and family nowadays: Telegram.

The distance transformed my communication dynamics, and made me discover many new ways of maintaining and building relationships through the web. There are people with whom I’ll exchange 30 min of audios every few months, and there are others that will message me regularly telling me whatever has been going on with them. Neither of those mean that we are or are not being able to share deep thoughts and feelings, and building new layers in our relationship. They’re just different. There are as many singular ways of interacting through instant messaging than there are web-based human relationships, and this is very precious to me. Telegram adds a few extra features to that.

Telegram

In their own words, “Telegram is a cloud-based mobile and desktop messaging app with a focus on security and speed”. To me, it is the platform through which I access my family and friends’ private lives, outside of what they want to share publicly on other social media. This app has a few media-rich features that differ from other instant messengers, and that make me feel closer to who I am talking to.

Though I didn’t want to share my private life publicly, I could use a way to reach everyone that I did want to share it with all at once, and that tool is the Channel. Telegram allows me to have a space in which only I can post, but everyone else can still reach me in our private chats. This is where I share all the achievements, dramas, NYC weird stuff, rants, and other more general things. In that, I use video balls.

The video messages — or video balls — are low-resolution short videos that are displayed like GIFs in the chat. From the day-to-day technology around us, video calls are the interaction that gets the closest to physical interaction (even if still very far from it). These video balls are a step ahead of the voice messages in the sense that one can perceive the other person’s intonation, volume, and facial expression. The main difference in here is that these videos, just like the voice messages available in other platforms, are not in real time. Or are they?

Instant messaging in real time

As we discussed in class, synchronous platforms — or as we called them: live — are virtual spaces in which people interact in real time. From that perspective, Telegram is not necessarily a synchronous platform, and it even gives you options to make it very much not so, such as limiting the time between messages in a group. Still, I believe most of my meaningful interactions with friends and family happen in real time through this app, and that is the reason why I chose to talk about it.

As far as conversations go, people usually develop their thoughts from and with the thoughts of their interlocutor. In the same way, instant messaging can be, well, not instant, but it can be. Often times my friends will begin to send me videos, and once the first one is sent, I will watch them all while they are recording the next one, and I will start responding as soon as they get to a stopping point. Sometimes we will respond to a topic before the person has even finished their thought, and differently than face-to-face interaction, there is no interruption — we can all say what we want, and the platform is the responsible for making sure that we all saw/heard what the other had to say. We can react with words, stickers, links, more videos, photos, or silence.

I took some time considering whether this platforms are synchronous or not and from the start, two things made me think that they are not. But, soon I understood that these are some of the most interesting aspects of its liveness.

Telegram documents the whole chat and stores it in the cloud. This sounded to me as a possibility of going back in time, rewatching and reliving memories as pictures that would be able to apprehend every single detail of a moment. But it doesn’t take long to realize that these collections of text and media are not the memories in themselves, and that what happened in that moment is not at all stored in those bytes. The environment where one read or heard that, how they were feeling, what they were thinking, these are all things that cannot be reached. Being so, the experiences lived in the chat with someone else are unique and behave just like any other real time interaction. One can go back and delete or edit the past messages, but they can’t interfere in the decision that they originally made in that moment.

The other aspect is the possibility of silence. The time it takes for one to answer another is definitely real time, and we wait just as we would wait any other response. That is also documented, and is there to be accessed and relived in a different way. The tension between every message, the fact that weeks could go by, or one could never answer you again, and these are all possibilities of the live. Silence is a decision on time.

Instant messaging allows me to be as close as I can to my loved ones, while taking my time to answer them, pay attention to them carefully and repeatedly watch/listen to/read them if I need to, as well as it lets me engage in speedy conversations full of links, seeing their reactions and taking part in their decisions. I believe this is the space that I have to invest in my long term relationships with people that live far, and that I live truly every moment that I share with them in these platforms. This understanding helps me to feel supported and supporting, and makes the distance way more bearable.

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