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Oct 04, 2006

Affective communication in the metaverse


Have a look at this thought-provoking article by Russel Blackford on affective communication in mediated environments:

One of the main conclusions I’ve been coming to in my research on the moral issues surrounding emerging technologies is the danger that they will be used in ways that undermine affective communication between human beings - something on which our ability to bond into societies and show moment-by-moment sympathy for each other depends. Anthropological and neurological studies have increasingly confirmed that human beings have a repertoire of communication by facial expression, voice tone, and body language that is largely cross-cultural, and which surely evolved as we evolved as social animals.

The importance of this affective repertoire can be seen in the frequent complaints in internet forums that, “I misunderstood because I couldn’t hear your tone of voice or see the expression on your face.” The internet has evolved emoticons as a partial solution to the problem, but flame wars still break out over observations that would lead to nothing like such violent verbal responses if those involved were discussing the same matters face to face, or even on the telephone. I almost never encounter truly angry exchanges in real life, though I may be a bit sheltered, or course, but I see them on the internet all the time. Partly, it seems to be that people genuinely misunderstand where others are coming from with the restricted affective cues available. Partly, however, it seems that people are more prepared to lash out hurtfully in circumstances where they are not held in check by the angry or shocked looks and the raised voices they would encounter if they acted in the same way in real life.

This is one reason to be sightly wary of the internet. It’s not a reason to ban the internet, which produces all sorts of extraordinary utilitarian benefits. Indeed, even the internet’s constraint on affective communication may have advantages - it may free up shy people to say things that they would be too afraid to say in real life.


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