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Torill Mortensen: "Dialogue in slow motion -- the pleasure of writing and reading across the web"

Blogtalk session notes July 5 2004

Panel 3

Torill Mortensen

Why do people blog?

Phatboi - "people need his unique wisdom"

various others - don't know why

common denominator: it's about communication!

What about the notion of the "other"?

society has been developed under carrot and stick methods, and communication provides reinforcement and reward for communication. Babies at 6 months/weeks? already shows signs of communication, turn-taking and ... later ... empathy. This shows how communication helps us develop a sense of the other.

Is the virtual "other' hard-wired into our brains? It allows infants to allow others (real or imagined) into their personal mental space and creates conditions for dialogue.

Common sense supports this.

Also, Maslov's hierarchy of needs backs this up. Communication is basic to the satisfaction of all human needs.

Slime mould and ants....

Slime mould appears to behave rationally despite having no brain. When scientists stopped looking for central intelligence and looked instead at dispersed communication capacity (in cells) allows the mould to develop.

Traditionally, the ant queen was seen as the leader of an ant colony, but in reality she is just the "breeder" who serves the colony, and in fact some form of collective action is in charge.

How are we different? - extreme amount of channels and modes we use - sophistication of our comms


In "blogging thoughts" we talk about the cockroach comment - Prof. Henry Jenkins of MIT in "Blog this" referred to bloggers as cockroaches, then denied it through a student blog, but it stuck. He now blogs himself.

<< and the point is?.... need to check the story>>

Oral / written language has key differences and this is the basis of much confusion around the modalities of blogging. People mix them up? use oral techniques in a written form? (take a look at text based virtual reality. Talking using text is there for more than 15yrs there)

speaker in direct interaction with listener (synchronic) writer is in differed interaction with reader

(Wold 1992:180)

Today the writer can be in direct connection with the reader through chat, MUDs (see comment above), etc that provide real time textual conversation. <<Leo: There is a problem here with online communication: missing of emotions which can only partly be expressed using emoticons. Maybe that is why it is not so important that the language on a blog is good writing language.>> <<Good point Leo>> <<I am a mudder for a long time now :-), all the same there and discussed often enough.>>

Blogs are basically oral in their modality but still retain the benefits of the written word, freeing us from the "now" - it libertaes both parties from the here and now.

This is why blogs are confusin - it promises and invites immediacy associated with oral modes, but bloggers may not respond for some time and so may revert to traditional written mode. Blogs often shift from turn taking to immediacy and back again.

complaint about not being able to comment/trackback on speaker's blog

The inevitable Dave Winer reference: she says his behaviour is an example of modality confusion rather than stupidity. He treats a blog as an oral medium as if he is in a constant flow of oral comms and can at any time say 'no, that's not what I meant'

For example, when shutting down sites on (?) he used an audio file to present his position. Typically, with Winer, people dig into his archives and challenge him with contradictory records of his views.


Writing a blog post is an exercise in patience and exhibitionism. Then you write another to keep it company, and another, and so on....

Wolfgang Iser: "Authors play games with the readers, and the text is a playground." Importance of free play vs. regulated play.

competition and play

Anne Galloway's post "First Count" refers to Canadian politics, but it is full of links and refs that tell us lots about her - her views, her research, background on Canadian politics, etc. - it is a small post that exists in its own right, but also something more informative that is submerged into a wider sphere. (Ref:

Dana Boyd: she returns to a former post on and links to somebody else's post that links to ... that links to ... etc - i.e. the reality of the post exists in the tension and the space between the posts / texts. This can be compared to the sidewalks in cities - they provide the right kind and number of intreractions in cities. - They are the gap junctions in city lives.

"the privilege to not fight"

You're not driving on the information highway - bloggers stroll leisurely on the city sidewalks. You don't understand a community by driving through it, you have to walk. The same applies to blogs.

Understanding the blog community requires participating to it, whether if it is by lurking or actively writing.

As far as dialog is concerned, you can play it slow or fast:

What people enjoy is being in control rather than exercising control.

Roundup: dialogue in slow motion - the pleasure of writing and reading across the web:

there are others out there to link with - this is hard wired into our brains as a capacity for dialogue. Blogs are dialogic, but they are written and this produces some confusion because oral and written modes are different.