liv: alternating calligraphed and modern letters (letters)
[personal profile] liv
[ profile] kake linked to a cool post by [personal profile] doug about changing history with a time machine. It's the sort of post that makes me realize just how weak my history is. There's absolutely no way I could come up with any sensible argument for which people and events made a substantial difference to the course of history, or how history would have been different if those fulcrum events ran differently. Anyway I really like reading stuff by knowledgeable people playing around with ideas like this!

Also I accidentally rekindled the debate about whether Harriet Vane is a Mary-Sue at [personal profile] staranise's place. People are being careful about major spoilers but if you don't want to know anything the plots or characters of any Sayers books at all you might want to avoid the thread. [personal profile] legionseagle quite rightly points out that my initial premise was simplistic and probably sexist, and also has some really informative and insightful ideas about Sayers' oeuvre, about Mary-Sues, and about the law. And lots of thinky stuff about class and how that's changed historically from various people, including [personal profile] naraht. And [personal profile] staranise herself brings the psychological insight regarding relationships between authors and characters.

One of the major topics I've been thinking about recently is how to maintain communication with people I care about a lot but who aren't regularly in my life. Partly sparked by this really chewy discussion chez [personal profile] kaberett, which started off responding to a Captain Awkward discussion about when you should just assume someone who isn't getting back to you doesn't actually want to be talking to you and it's time to stop pestering, and moves on to talking about different media and how they work or don't for communication. Also I've been talking to [personal profile] lethargic_man about related stuff; he used to joke that the reason he asked me out was that that was the only way to get me to answer emails, and it's somewhat true, I've been a direly terrible correspondent in the decade since we broke up. And now I am committing the terrible irony of failing to keep up with an email conversation about ways of keeping up with email conversations...

So, I'd like to hear from people, how do you manage this kind of thing? What sorts of communication media work for you or don't? I think a lot of why I'm a little angsty about this is that my absolute optimal way to keep the people I care about in my life is... Dreamwidth. To a first approximation, if you post on DW at all regularly, I feel connected. Doesn't matter what the content is, it can be linkspams or rants or random daily updates or media responses or whatever, and it only needs to be a little bit above the absolute minimum of once every few years posting to say you really should post more. Of all the people I've ever hoped to have a long-term friendship with, the ones who posted to LJ in the 2000s and have moved to DW now are almost always the ones I feel closest to even many years after life circumstances (eg university, jobs, meeting on LJ) happened to throw us together.

There's an obvious problem with this, which is that DW isn't for everyone and also we're starting to fall below the critical mass where people want to be here because their whole social circle is even if it's not their favourite medium. I don't in principle like DW folk better than people who prefer other channels. It's just that, well, I find the reading list format unbelievably convenient, and DW is very much part of my regular routine. I genuinely do read everything that everybody I'm subscribed to posts, mix of having at least an hour in the evening where keeping up with my d-roll is what I do, with reading on my phone whenever I have a spare five minutes. It's chronological so I can easily find where I left off, it's comprehensive, no ridiculous algorithms promoting content and missing out other stuff, it's permanent so I can go back and read old posts if I want to, or catch up if I've been away for a while. I also really like being able to tweak the layout, colours and font to my satisfaction, and being able to read something that looks pretty much like the page of a book, where smallish text takes up most of the screen. No giant header images, no tiny squished little column in the middle to make room for adverts, no huge fonts with masses of white space because that looks modern.

I'm not absolutely brilliant at commenting, I know. Partly cos I read from my phone a lot of the time and it's a bit of a pain to type, partly because I don't always have the oomph to think of something to say. And it is true that barriers to interaction are high compared to more modern platforms. I go back and forth on whether DW would benefit from a "Like" equivalent, in some ways I sort of hate the idea, but partly because of it's association with evil Facebook and tracking and feeding the users to advertisers. In others I think there would be a lot to be said for a one-click, and more importantly one-tap, way to give people positive feedback and therefore make posting more rewarding. Either way, there's a pretty glaring gap between here and everywhere else on the internet where you just start typing under whatever you want to comment on.

However, what DW does have that really works well for me is an expectation that you only comment when you have something to say, it's perfectly good etiquette to read mostly without commenting. Equally comments are allowed to be short but not forced to stay within a strict limit. I can say "cool post, thanks!", I can choose to reply to just one aspect of a long post, I can bounce off with something tangentially related the post reminds me of, and I can also write several hundred words of how the post makes me feel or even come back to my own journal and react at length. So generally reading is its own reward – I get new words in front of my eyes, I get interesting stuff to think about, I feel connected to my friends, and commenting is almost entirely reward, with no sense of obligation or feeling like it's a task I ought to do or a standard I have to live up to. The time-scale is great for me, too, I don't have to reply instantly, I can take time to compose what I want to say or wait until it's actually convenient to sit down and type. Equally the bulk of discussion usually happens within a couple of days of a post going up; if I haven't managed to get back to something after a week or so, it just quietly falls out of my mind rather than sticking around on my overcrowded mental to-do list metaphorically rotting.

What makes DW perfect for me obviously isn't applicable to everyone else, though, so the question is how to make best use of other media and channels. LJ is basically close enough, I feel less comfortable there because of the advertising and lack of openness, and visually the interface suits me less well, especially with recent changes. But for those few of my friends who actively prefer LJ over DW, it has most of the same advantages so it's fine for keeping in touch. Other social media, not so much.

I am just about ok with Twitter, as long as I keep in mind that it's purely ephemeral, I can't catch up if I miss a few days or go back and find old Tweets. But if people chat, either about day-to-day things or political opinions on Twitter, I do feel connected to them. (If Twitter starts auto-filtering feeds, as is rumoured, it will become a lot less congenial, mind you.) Real blogs: well, as soon as anyone mentions they have a real blog I add it to my RSS reader, and I try to follow. But RSS seems to be unreliable (eg lots of blogs randomly stop updating) and the modern internet doesn't really like the format, so there aren't good tools for it. Also I am really really unlikely to comment on real blogs, partly because I have to click through from my reader to the OP, and sign in with some complicated system that often as not doesn't work, and no, I'm not using my FB ID or selling my soul to Google+ just to be able to say, hey, nice post, that reminds me of thing. Also there's a kind of culture that bloggers write for "the public" rather than primarily for their personal friends, as is much more expected here. Tumblr is not for conversation, and FB is just awful for reasons that have been gone over plenty of times so I won't repeat them.

And sometimes I do want one-to-one conversation or even private conversation. The obvious asynchronous tool for that is email, but most of my adult life has been one ongoing struggle with email guilt. I think it's partly the thing of letting other people set my to-do list, my inbox tends to be a mixture of practical stuff I need to deal with, and actual chatty letters from friends. Sure, sorting it into those different categories helps a bit, but not entirely. The feeling that I "owe" people email, that it's supposed to be a kind of ping-pong where one person writes a mail and the other sends a reply, is a huge psychological barrier to actually dealing with email. Also, as I was chatting about with [personal profile] kaberett and [personal profile] swaldman, I came to email in the 90s and my email culture is about in-line replies. That means I feel kind of obliged to reply to every single line in an email I receive rather than top-posting with either a general response or a comment on one particular bit as I would do with a DW post. As a result, emails tend to languish for months until I have time to sit down and concentrate for several hours and write a "proper" reply, by which time I feel guilty for not having got back to my friend, and it's all a bit hopeless.

The only really successful email-based relationship I have is with [ profile] rysmiel, and even then it took about 8 years of trial and error to find a mode that works for both of us. Partly it's that [ profile] rysmiel's super-human efficiency makes up for the ways I'm unreliable as a correspondent, and partly we've come to an arrangement where I don't have to reply back in exactly a 1:1 ratio. In general I would like to write more emails to more people, especially the ones who have drifted away from LJ/DW. Except that the only slack time I really have for doing this is on my train journeys back and forth across the country to visit my friends and loved ones, and that time is earmarked for writing to [ profile] rysmiel.

Paper letters are basically useless; they have all the disadvantages of email as well as the additional ones that I write a whole lot slower than I type, and I have to get round to finding a stamp and an envelope and looking up the person's address (which change more often than email addresses do and I might well not hear of a change of address) and putting the letter in the postbox, rather than just pressing "send". I have a few people who emotionally I consider friends but whom I'm just not in touch with, because they don't believe in social email and don't have journal-type blogs, and I can't maintain connections on Facebook and snailmail just doesn't happen.

One idea a few people have mentioned, which perhaps I'd like to try, is to buy a bunch of postcards or small notecards, and write just whatever fits into that small space. That would make it easier to keep in touch regularly, without the intimidation of needing to write a long-hand reply to a letter. In some ways I think what I want is to be like Victorian ladies you read about, who had an hour each morning for "correspondence" built into their daily routine. I mean, on the one hand they didn't have jobs and had servants to cover most of their domestic responsibilities, but on the other, I probably spend about that much time each day following my friends on DW, so perhaps I could use that time more constructively. And that might well be email or making more of an effort to comment on posts, not necessarily getting all paper-and-ink romantic about it.

Phonecalls: I don't hate the phone as much as most people do, but honestly if I just randomly call people or they call me, it's as likely to be annoying as charming. I'm actually quite happy to spend a couple of hours chatting, as long as it's at a pre-arranged, mutually convenient time. Incompatible timezones make this harder, but it can sometimes work. When I do manage to arrange it I always feel good about having a proper natter and giving someone my full attention without multitasking. So I don't manage to phone my friends as often as I'd like, but I do it some, and it helps a bit. Phone is my parents' and grandmother's preferred medium, which is perhaps a generational thing, but we all end up feeling a bit dissatisfied with how rarely we actually have time for synchronous conversation compared to how much we actually want to talk. I count VoIP systems like Skype or Google Talk as basically equivalent to phones; having video available isn't a big plus for me, the fact that it's free even internationally is somewhat helpful.

In many ways I prefer IM over phones for synchronous chat, partly because typing is less physically tiring than talking, and partly cos I can kind of hang out with someone in a low-key way while doing something else, or I can give them my full attention for a pre-arranged time. And I can use the same channel to do the pre-arranging, rather than, like, sending an email to ask when we can chat by phone. I'm mildly annoyed that basically everybody is using either Google Talk or Facebook chat for IM these days, because I don't really like the idea of those companies plus the NSA having complete records of my conversations, but that's a minor downside. The main reason this doesn't work for keeping in touch is that probably only a small minority of my friends use these systems at all, especially not in the model of just hanging out online rather than setting up times to talk.

Anyway, how do you do this? How do you handle email guilt and deal with Facebook's horribleness? Are you comfortable flexibly moving between different media depending what suits your friends? Have you, like me, started to lose people now that lots are migrating away from DW? Thoughts very much welcome!
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Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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