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Friday, November 18th, 2011, 11:46 pm

Expression With Keyboards, Voice, and Physical/Frontal Interaction

The difference presence and sound can make.


Keyboards are a wonderful input device because they are accurate and they use the fingers, which we can use in unison in very clever ways. It’s nature’s gift to our species. But not all keyboards are created equal. One might have to look at the keys to map the letters in one’s mind, e.g. in case the keyboard is a numpad on a phone. These are designed to minimise space, but always at the expense of productivity. Some mobile form factors like tablets have the same problem. It’s a limitation. The change in keyboard technology has led to a shift in communication, mostly abbreviation; the very short messages are simply the result of limitation, not young people’s preference for illegible sentences. This is why I use a PDA with foldable keyboard, I am using it even to write this very post. But I generally get flak sometimes for being honest about the lack of appeal for SMS — taking like 10 times longer to express oneself there than verbally. With keyboard I am always on par with speech, bar the need to proofread (this is why audiocasts, for instance, have some clear advantages). I like typing and I type fast, but nothing ever beats speech and there are no typographical errors in speech. It also allows one to think clearly by not getting slowed down by the fingers (that in most cases cannot catch up with the speed of mind or the voice in one’s head). In order to communicate with people rather honestly, the time limitation is sometimes required. Without practice, there is less time to spin; some prefer to judge by using more facial expression as well, but that is another discussion altogether (direct, real-life interaction). Just because people cannot hear another person’s voice or tone of voice means that they are missing a lot of the message, assuming one is serious or whatever even when sarcasm is used. When face muscles can be observed, then untrained liars can be called out too. The bottom line is, depending on the medium used for communication there can be vast differences one needs to be aware of.

As one can probably imagine, without people hearing each other, let alone having visual communication, people are simply using just a small portion of human interaction*. There are some numbers, percent-wise, from about 15 years ago and less. They try to quantify the extent to which each element of communication counts. These talk about how much body language and voice amount to when it comes to signals we humans interpret to detect love, fear, anger, etc. Like staring at someone. It’s animal instinct to find that unnerving — something about feeling like prey. Try that with a dog or a cat and see what they do. That would be a good example of communication without words or even any facial muscles, just eyesight directed without motion at an animal. Truly a good case study in interaction with very low entropy, eh? The longer it does not change, the less comfortable the person/animal will get. It is something in he reptilian (older inherited) parts of our brains

An animal that cannot detect being watched will be left behind in the pact and caught by lions or whatever. But those who are too careful are also not too well off. By extension, this generalises to other things. For instance, a girl too afraid of guys might not meet some people or miss an opportunity, whereas one who over-trusts people might become a victim. So striking the balance is an evolutionary process wherein one adapts one’s compass to know what’s a threat and what’s not. Messages in general are ambiguous and the less communication elements are available, the greater the number of possible interpretations. One cannot tell for sure how it’s viewed in the context of non-vocal communication, unless some expressions of emotion (like emoticons) get used spuriously to compensate somewhat.

If the screen has no smiley signs, then it might, in one’s mind, evoke the feeling that that the other side is angry, upset,apathetic, or simply overly serious. Just 3 symbolic characters can make a lot of difference by clarifying intent or feelings. To substitute something like an image on the screen we still depend on visual cues. They appears as mere characters, but to the observer at the other side they are not. But overusing them would make a computer geek look a little awkward. Formality is another thing and the frequency of typos under different circumstances is also a missing variable. In certain places one might proofread, whereas in others one might just be typing as the mind goes along, and even reading while one goes along typing. It feels a little write-only otherwise, almost akin to those typists who sit next to the judge in a high-profile case, where basically rather than listen and type someone else’s utterance one might try to express what goes through another’s mind, letter by letter. If I don’t have to ghostread and proofread, then it’s a joy as that basically means one can write sort of like one speaks, maybe more formally, maybe less. This post too won’t be reread as it is intended to show what happens when one types down some thoughts without planning in advance.

* We evolved to use full interaction, not telegraphs or remote audio such as telephones.

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