Monday, January 4, 2010

(empo-tymshft) (empo-tuulwey) Steven Hodson, John Adams, and Virtual Communities of the 18th and 21st centuries

Anyone who is reading this right now is someone who spends time online. (Well, maybe someone will print this post out and share the printout with someone else, but that's not likely.) And people who spend time online, even if they're only using email, use online tools to communicate with other people.

Steven Hodson recently wrote a post in his personal blog that touched on this subject. Now I'm not going to probe into the three items that Hodson discussed in this post, but it's worthwhile to note what Hodson has done online.

It was a conversation with Robert Scoble years ago now that made me rethink my reasons for the pseudo-privacy.

Now this conversation with Scoble had its effect on Hodson. Yet, I'd be willing to bet that Robert Scoble (who lives in California) and Steven Hodson (who lives in Ontario) have never physically met. In fact, it's quite possible that during the referenced "conversation," Hodson and Scoble didn't hear each others' voices. They may have exchanged text messages or emails or some such, yet this fulfilled the requirements of a "conversation."

Here's something else that Hodson said in his post:

I will not go into the details of what that fixed income is because that is personal suffice it to say that since starting at The Inquisitr (and a short stint at Mashable before that) my wife and I were exceedingly aware of what subsistence (or rather an illusion of it) living was all about.

This includes a reference to Hodson's current job, as a writer for the Inquisitr. Now I have a job. I get in my car, drive down to Orange County, sit at a desk, talk with my boss, talk with her boss, talk with my co-workers, do work, and go home. Now Hodson also has a job. His boss is Duncan Riley. And if you think there's a distance between Hodson and Scoble, consider the distance between Hodson and Riley, who is pretty much on the opposite side of the world from Hodson. (No "dreaming of a white Christmas" for Duncan Riley.) Again, I don't know that Hodson and Riley have ever physically met.

So Steven Hodson can interact with people and even conduct business without leaving his home.

But this in itself is nothing new. Let's go back a few centuries and look at the relationship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, who literally engaged in years of correspondence. Although they had a falling-out that lasted years, they later reconciled and continued their correspondence up to their deaths.

But there's one key difference between the Adams-Jefferson correspondence and the correspondence of the 21st century - the Adams-Jefferson correspondence began with a physical meeting:

The close friendship between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams began when they met at the 1775 Continental Congress in Philadelphia. Although different in many ways down to their appearance, the two developed a strong respect and liking for one another. In 1776, they worked together on the committee to draft the Declaration of Independence, and in 1784, Jefferson joined Adams in France on diplomatic service....In March of 1786, Jefferson went to England on diplomatic business....

And, of course, they also spent twelve years working together in the post-Constitution Federal government.

But would the friendship between Adams and Jefferson had been as strong if they had never met? I think not, primarily because of the differences between 18th century communications and 21st century communications.

When Duncan Riley needs to contact Steven Hodson, he can do so in seconds (provided that both are awake at the same time). If Riley chooses to communicate via the written word, he can compose his text more quickly than Thomas Jefferson could. If Riley chooses to communicate via his voice, Hodson can hear his voice instantaneously. Riley can take a picture of himself and send it to Hodson within seconds. Riley could even create a video.

Compare this with Adams and Jefferson. Adams could communicate to Jefferson via the written word, but it would take days for Adam's words to reach Jefferson. Adams could not communicate with Jefferson via voice unless they both happened to be in Philadelphia or Washington at the time. And if Adams wanted to send a picture of himself to Jefferson, he'd need a painter or at least a sketch artist, and again it would take some days for the picture to reach Jefferson. Video? Forget it.

So while virtual communication was possible hundreds, or even thousands, of years ago, the virtual communication tools have certainly improved over the past few decades, both in terms of immediacy/speed, and in terms of the richness of content that can be exchanged. This allows a guy in Canada to work for a guy in Australia, and it allows a guy in Texas to work with another guy in Australia to create a podcast, and it will allow people all over the world to leave insightful comments on this post.

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