Sotto Voce.

"Qui plume a, guerre a." — Voltaire

“Words that are Bridled and Reined”

I love serendipity. The more a system or technique accommodates serendipity, the more value I tend to place on it. Conversely, I tend to abandon systems and techniques that have lost their ability to generate it.

So this morning I am reading Seth Godin’s blog post in which he arranges forms of communication along a two-axis chart: one axis represents distance in time and space between what he terms the “creator” and the “responder,” and the density (or “quality”) of information exchanged.

(Love him or hate him, at least Godin is honest and straightforward about what he is — a salesman, a marketer, a classic old-school huckster. He’s all about the deal, and never pretends to be about anything else. But he’s also a better-than-average observer and analyst of the power of words, which is why he’s part of my daily reading.)

Anyway, his chart is sure to provoke — Is art really a low-bandwidth form of communication? Surely “quality” is more than just density? — but it’s designed for a simple purpose: to map out the fertile spots in the land-rush for profitable communications technologies. While you can extrapolate some interesting implications from his chart — you could argue that plotting from the asynchronous to the synchronous appears to correlate with a transition in the nature of the medium from the permanent to the ephemeral, for example — it’s probably best not do too much of that.

Anyway, he ends with this question: “If you had seen this chart three years ago, you obviously would have invented Twitter. Now that you see it today, what will you create?” While I was contemplating an answer to that question, I received an e-mail from a friend with a quote from Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941):

By riding words that are bridled and reined
Man has quickened
The pace of time’s slow clock.

Yep, I think I’ll stick to creating most of my things in the high-bandwidth half of the chart — lots of asynchronous stuff like writing, of course, but mostly in the upper-right quadrant, where the most valuable, meaningful, and timeless stuff can be found. That’s where relationships live.

Categorised as: Life the Universe and Everything

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  1. Cheryl says:

    Wait– why do you say stuff in the upper-right quadrant of the chard is where meaningful/timeless stuff can be found? I am not sure I think anything defined as synchronous is timeless. It is, as you mentioned earlier, ephemeral– and what is meaningful about a seminar or coaching session, really? (I do think that interpreting this on the permanent-ephemeral scale is interesting personally. I am sure Godin would not agree, since as you pointed out, his interpretation of value is strictly commercial.)

    As a random note, I don’t consider Twitter to be as synchronous as e-mail or chat. In fact, it’s not a matter of consideration. On the subject of Twitter, I’ve used it for some time, and I have to say, it is really quite vacuous. It places no value on information as a resource of any duration– it is entirely focused on that bubble of conscious attention that spans from about a half hour ago to the present moment, and is then mostly forgotten. It is laser focused on fleeting, silly events in pop culture, gossip, pointless personal observations of the present moment. It leaves nothing for the future (or even anything organized for the present) except, much in the way of a slice of landfill, it will give anthropologists an idea of the typical mental throwaways of daily life, for whatever that will be worth. It’s curious to me that as a culture, we consider this the pinnacle of communication and information exchange.

  2. Cheryl says:

    That is, chart.

  3. sottovoce says:

    I guess it depends on how you define “relationship.” I put meaningful relationships in the UR quadrant because, as I experience them, they are both proximate (in terms of intimacy, not necessarily in terms of time or space) and high-bandwidth (in terms of the quality and density of the information exchanged). I experience relationships as both highly synchronous and very timeless — with a friend I can pick up a conversation days, months or years later, or revel in the same jokes and stories or experiences that originally brought us together, and make new stories that will become old ones someday and get passed on down the generations. Physical intimacy with a loved one is pegged firmly to the farthest upper-right corner (and probably even hangs out over the edge of the graph a little). Speaking of timelessness in relationships, I swear that Mrs. Sotto Voce is as beautiful today as the day I met her.

    As for why Godin plots his points where he does, you’ll have to take it up with him, but I suspect it’s a fairly accurate reflection of how pitchmen view the effectiveness of various media for closing the sale. It does seem that in the interest of simplicity (the graph is, after all, a quickie thought experiment), he necessarily conflates format with function. For example, he puts postal mail in the LL quadrant (low-bandwidth, asynchronous). If we’re talking about a mass-mailed advertisement, sure. If we’re talking about a love letter, then probably not.