Digital Text

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Text: Chat, Instant messages and updates for one and all.

A brown bag lunch presented by

Jason Toal - (email me!) - (twitter me!)

Steve Ray - (email me!)  - (twitter me!)

and everything in between (but dont call us late for dinner)


The written word is our oldest form of mediated communication, but in the digital age, text takes new life as social, wired and wireless networks allow us the means to share our words instantly, to one or many others. This discussion will cover many of the popular forms of digital text based communications out there today from mobile phones and text chat, to facebook status updates and twitter.

First there was printing press, followed quickly by email. The shift from print publishing to digital text is far too great a leap for this presentation, suffice it to say, the digital age has brought with it incredible changes in the way we communicate using the written word, or 'text'.

Our premise is that technology has not only mediated communication in countless ways, but that the very ways we communicate—and even the ways we talk and think about communication—are changing as a result.
Social Networking, the "Third Place," and the Evolution of Communication - NMC, October 10th, 2007

Text is a technology used for communication and can be seen from at least two distinctive perspectives. One to One, and One to Many.  As digital text has made our correspondances  shorter and quicker, new ways of communicating seem to be emerging. Introduced in this presentation, the status update, or broadcasting of presence is one such way.

One to One (directed messaging)

Sending a letter or an email, means directing your message to at least one other individual. With email, IM, or text messaging on mobile phones, you are able to select multiple recipients but the key factor is that you must choose each of them specifically.

One to Many (undirected broadcasting)

Writing a book or an article for a magazine or newspaper are the traditional means of broadcasting text. Prose,arguments, explanations and rhetoric vary in length from long to short. Digital broadcasting has now seen the introduction of blogs and with them the ability to for anyone to publish their thoughts, ideas and opinions on a large public scale, the internet.

Status Update (presence - "undirected messaging" ?)

Social networking sites have prepared many of us for the communications mode with the ability to  publish our current status within an online network. This is most commonly seen in the status update on facebook. Typically short and to the point, the status update on facebook becomes a stream of posts that can be as frequent as a user likes, can be reviewed as a trail or diary of recent activity. Now twitter enters the fray with the ability to broadcast these short, sometimes persoanl sometimes professional messages to many. Often called 'microblgging, is this a new way to communicate or just a variant of older forms? Still considered a form of One to One communication, IM demands a virtual presence. responses are immediate as there is an awareness of whether the person you are communicating with is online or not.

Text Technologies


One to One - 'Snail' Mail, Letters, Postacards, 

One to Many - Books, Magazines, Newspapers

Before digital there was only one means of communicating the written word, via print and its related technologies.  There has been a range of mediums withing the print world to do so, but compared to its digital counterpart print technologies take longer to produce and are more lengthy.  With that, it could be argued they are also more thoughtful and accurate.


For most our early experience of email were staggering revelation on the way we communicate with others. Letter writing all but ceased to exist as we were able to send shorter message more frequently to one or several of our contacts simultaneously. Expectations of responses varied as you could never quite be sure when the person you were sending to received an email but typically a back and forth type of correspondence was made much easier.

Instant Messaging (Chat)

Still considered a form of One to One communication, IM demands a virtual presence. Responses are immediate as there is an awareness of whether the person you are communicating with is online or not. The idea of a virtual 'presence' really takes hold.

Skype, Yahoo, Aim, MSN, Meebo


Today, mobile phones combine the traditional immediacy of the telephone and the virtual presence of email.


Seeing a rise in the last 6 years (?), personal publishing via a blog has allowed anyone with an internet conecction to set up there own blog where they can write and broadcast their ideas to as large an audience as can be mustered. Blogs posts are typically well thought out musing and can contain other media, (audio, video, images) and most importantly allow for immediate feedback from viewers via comments.

SFU Blogger, Wordpress

Social Networking

With the introduction of Social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace, several forms of communication come into play.  Like email, correspondances are shared amongst ones immediate social network but the ease of "adding friends" has increased the size of that network.  Like blogs, the social network has become a form of personal publishing or broadcasting ones personal tastes or ideas.  This is most notable in the status updates area of the facebook interface.

Facebook, MySpace,

Weird and New

Becoming popular amongst the geek world recently, 'microblogging' sites like twitter offer yet another new form of communication. Here, the idea of the personal 'channel' that anyone can create and maintain and can be shared across public and private networks really takes off.

Twitter, chatterous

In the Academy

Obviously text is one of the primary ways communications happens in a learning situation.  In this context, the traditional interaction is One to Many, (Instructor to Students) to teach a class or One to One  (Student to Instructor) to submit demonstrated understanding of the material.

What possible impacts do new communications tools have in this environment?

Slow/Lengthly - One to One
Mail, Email

Intructor to Student > Review, Critique, Assessment
Student to Instructor > Questions, confirmations

Slow/Lengthly - One to Many
Newspaper, Blog
Instructor to Student > Assigned readings, Lecture notes, Course blogs (announcments, content)
Student to Instructor > Essay, Course blogs

Quick/Compact - One to one
Phone, Instant Message
Intructor to Student > Online course, class discussion
Student to Instructor > Online course, class discussion

Quick/Compact - Broadcast

Facebook Status, Twitter
Intructor to Student > ???
Student to Instructor > hahaha

Some Questions

What are the implications of digital communications in the clasroom in general?

Are there learning benefits to using Email? Instant messaging? Blogs? Facebook? Twitter?

Would instructors find value "twittering" their status updates to a class?  Would students?

What are we (as users of these technologies) saying?

How are we saying it? (using half sentences, abbreviations, emoticons)

What tools are we using? (IM, meebo, Facebook, Twitter, Mobile phones)

Why are we flocking to these new kinds of communications tools? What gap are they filling? 

Links and Resources

Blog posts

Evolution of Communication: From Email to Twitter and Beyond - ReadWriteWeb, May 30, 2007

Mobile Instant Messaging Meets Social Networking: Twitter - A Beginner's Guide - Robin Good, April 25, 2007

The value in Twitter - Joining Dots, June 25, 2008

Tweet Tweet (some thoughts on Twitter) - apophenia, March 18, 2007

You are where your presence information says you are - Sagee Ben-Zedeff, June 10th, 2008

Is Texting (SMS) Killing Chat? - Stuart Henshall, September 26, 2006

Clive Thompson on How Twitter Creates a Social Sixth Sense - Clive Thompson - Wired  Magazine, 06/26/07

White Papers

Social Networking, the "Third Place," and the Evolution of Communication - NMC, October 10th, 2007