For the love of synchrony
As I mentioned in my last blog post, my startup is centered around real time (synchronous) communication online, specifically as it pertains to groups. Although versions of synchronous group communication platforms have been around for quite some time, it’s never taken off as a mainstream communication format (when was the last time that you participated in a real time conversation with more than one person at a time? If your answer is “on AOL back in the 90s”, you know what I’m talking about).
On the surface, it would seem that internet society tried and ultimately rejected this communication format. But if you take a look at the real world as a model for communication online, this just doesn’t make sense because unless you live in a cave, you’re most likely participating in group conversations on a daily basis. How is it possible then, with all of the advances in communication online that we don’t have a mainstream tool for this thing that happens everyday for everyone?
At least part of the answer is that we became enamored with an alternative to synchrony online: asynchrony. Asynchronous communication is the act of creating messages that are intended to be consumed by audiences at a later time than the moment of their creation. Before asynchronous communication existed, the exchange of information required the shared presence and attention of both the producer and the consumer of information; scale depended on the reach of a person’s voice and the ability to gather people together in the same place at the same time (which is a very cumbersome process).
Asynchrony makes it possible for people to exchange information without needing to share time or space. The author can devote attention to message production at his/her own pace; likewise, the consumer can devote attention to message comprehension at his/her own pace and at a time of their choosing (even centuries later).
Fast forward to today. With the independence and freedom of asynchrony, it’s no surprise that we now live in a Twitter world online. People broadcast messages without the slightest regard to that which their audience may currently be devoting their attention and media consumers pay attention to the messages they want, when they want. So, the golden question is “is this asynchronous world missing anything?”
I think the answer is “yes”. This becomes clear when we realize that communication is a means to an end. The reason we communicate is to understand (identify the meaning of) the things around us (information).
Asynchrony is ideal for spreading information because time, effort and thought can be devoted to high quality information transmission, but synchrony is ideal for the second part of this process where quick back and forth between people seeking understanding is conducive to the pursuit of shared meaning (a.k.a., convergence).
The take away from all of this is that the two types of communication are huge complements to one another. A world absent of either type keeps us from being able to use communication to its fullest potential. We have the asynchronous platform pretty well nailed (Twitter)…now it’s time to nail the synchrony side of things. And let’s make sure it integrates tightly with Twitter so that we can let synchrony and asynchrony work together to unlock an even richer world of communication than we currently know.