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Texture: Human Expression in the Age of Communications Overload

Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Our workdays are so filled with emails, instant messaging, and RSS feeds that we complain that there's not enough time to get our actual work done. At home, we are besieged by telephone calls on landlines and cell phones, the beeps that signal text messages, and work emails on our BlackBerrys. It's too much, we cry (or type) as we update our Facebook pages, compose a blog post, or check to see what Shaquille O'Neal has to say on Twitter. In Texture, Richard Harper asks why we seek out new ways of communicating even as we complain about communication overload. Harper describes the mistaken assumptions of developers that "more" is always better and argues that users prefer simpler technologies that allow them to create social bonds. Communication is not just the exchange of information. There is a texture to our communicative practices, manifest in the different means we choose to communicate (quick or slow, permanent or ephemeral).

    eISBN: 978-0-262-28947-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Technology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VI)
    (pp. VII-XI)
    (pp. 1-8)

    In my own company, Microsoft, each employee sends and receives about 120 emails every day. Many also receive alerts from really simple syndication (RSS) feeds; and most run Messenger, our own instant messaging client. At Microsoft, we like to think that we are busy, efficient, effective, and knowledgeable enough about the communications technologies of the twenty-first century to leverage them for our own benefit. After all, we like to think that we helped invent some of them, and if not, we certainly have a business interest in most. We should know about these things. Yet my colleagues complain that they...

    (pp. 9-58)

    When my mother admonished me to write home as I was leaving for university, I had no idea that the moral implications of this phrase would still be resonating twenty-five years later. I left home full of enthusiasm and certainty, not philosophical doubt. Nor did I think that communication would be a concern of my professional life. The word itself is a veritable catchall for all sorts of acts and forms of life. Computers communicate to each other, and so do snails. Poets communicate to other poets, and cars traveling through an automated toll booth communicate to a toll meter....

    (pp. 59-108)

    In 1904, Edouard Estaunie coined the termtelecommunicationby merging the Latin wordcommunico(impart or share) with the Greek wordtele(distance). He had in mind a word for any technology that used electronic signals to exchange information. We still use the term in pretty much the same way one hundred years later, although in a more encompassing fashion. The historian of telecommunication, Anton Huurdeman (2003), uses it as a label for any “technology of information transport.” Paper mail and motorcycle couriers would presumably fit into this category. We no longer think oftelecommunication, however, as the word for...

    (pp. 109-152)

    A particular view of the human—that expressive actions are to be grasped by the interlocking of lookings and glancings and that people can communicate only a certain amount of information because of limits imposed by bodily and mental processing powers—reminds one of cyborgs. But these cyborgs are already in front of us in flesh and blood and biomechanics. They are the humans of Andy Clark’sNatural-Born Cyborgs: Minds, Technologies and the Future of Human(2003). This analogy between humanness and cyborg humanness lies at the heart of this chapter. What has been argued thus far in the book...

    (pp. 153-192)

    Our age is being defined by our relationships with devices that were initially designed simply to calculate—computers. Yet computers now come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and their ability to calculate binary bits has become secondary to other things that they appear to do for us. A digital camera is a computer of sorts, but when it takes pictures, we don’t think of it as taking measures of light within a matrix of evenly distributed light-sensitive zones. We want the camera to let us show pictures, not indexes of light, to other people. Similarly, our mobile phones...

    (pp. 193-228)

    Although social science and philosophy offer some conceptions that lead us away from an understanding of human communication, sociology and linguistics offer approaches that can allow us to build on our studies of Glancephones and Whereabouts clocks. We can see that the moral values of communication acts are important, just as are the places where those acts take place. The social and moral location of an act of communication—its coordinates in space and time—can be thought of as a habitus. And we can see that individual distinction is managed by choosing to communicate in one way rather than...

    (pp. 229-272)

    Over the past few years, I have been involved in research looking at older people’s communicative practices. As represented in the gerontology publications, older people are viewed as often suffering from a physical decline that inhibits their capacity to communicate. In the sociological literature, older people suffer from an aversion to new technologies, which has the same consequence as bodily decline: people becomeout of touch. My research has sometimes been commissioned to remedy these concerns—either by using novel human factors and ergonomics tricks to design interfaces and hardware that are easy to use for those with declining dexterity...

  11. INDEX
    (pp. 273-303)