Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Back Channeling

I was attending a lecture today and I noticed that the two men in front of me were passing notes back and forth. At first I dismissed this behaviour as some sort of retro-Grade-3 thing but then realized that I was actually witnessing a form of back channeling.

Back channeling is the term that has been given to the practice of communicating in real time with other audience members using IM or blogging software. The NY Times recently ran a piece on the issue.

I began to wonder why people would possibly want to engage in this sort of behaviour. One explanation is that these two men may be frequent video gamers who now need some extra sort of stimulation to enable them to focus on the lecture... it was pretty boring.

After watching them for some time another thought came to me. I was reminded of a paper written by Susan Leigh Star (1998) where she recommends that classficiation structures be negotiated by disparate epistemic communities to construct shared meaning (i.e., boundary objects). Perhaps these two men were attempting to conquer the flood of information that characterizes modern life by spontaneously negotiating a meaning from the polysemy of the lecture's text. They didn't need to wait until the end of the lecture to determine the meaning; they were classifying right then and there in a sort of concurrent post-classification approach. Maybe they're on to something...

Star, S. L. (1998). Grounded Classifications: Grounded Theory and Faceted Classifications. Library Trends, 47, 218-252.

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