'Social noise': So many platforms, and too much choice?

Even with presence technology, it doesn't always show when we are truly available. With so many services, how do we know how to contact one another?
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor on

Do you ever wonder why it is sometimes so difficult to determine which service is best to get in touch with someone?

Last week I had the pleasure of speaking to an undergraduate student working towards their final dissertation; as am I. Through the conversation, discussing the differentiation of digital natives and digital migrants- the iGeneration versus those who are often older who have had to adapt to the world of information technology - an interesting point emerged.

Back in the day, a posted letter would suffice. A phone call may work, but you knew the postal service would prevail. But a phone call never guaranteed that somebody would pick up. Arguably, neither did the letter, but you always knew it got there in the end.


Through to present day, there is no linear way to contact somebody nowadays. We are drowning in so many social services -- from Facebook to other social networks, Twitter and microblogging sites, to presence-enabled instant messengers and Skype, all the way down to mobile phones and text messaging.

How do we know which is the best service to contact someone with? The truth is: we don't, and more often than not we either stick with what we as senders feel as the most comfortable route, or we gauge the situation best and go with the standard 'professional' route of contact; the phone or an email.

I've come to realise my platforms for communications 'noise me out'.

The 'default' has switched over the years. The letter reigned long over the phone call, which was still a developing technology in the 1950's and '60's in the post war period. Of course, nowadays the mobile phone would still be a good bet for one to get in touch with another, but it does not guarantee a response.

Yet we live in different times now. Technology has flooded us with so many routes and paths of communication, it has become natural to stick with what we as senders of information become comfortable with, with the recipient not necessarily finding it appropriate.

But how does one communicate with another person based on the varying level of relationship one has with them? Sure, a phone call or an email, but what if they are not very confident in dealing with a ringing phone, as so many of the Generation Y innately are?

Through my eyes, I personally find either face-to-face or a phone call best. Nevertheless, over time I have built up certain knowledge of my colleagues and friends and know which is the best way to communicate with them. For some it is Facebook, for others it is Twitter or a phone call, whereas some take the route of instant messaging, like BlackBerry Messenger or Facebook Chat, for example.

Of course, we could all subscribe to services whereby our online presence is constantly displayed and automatically updated. But the implications for surveillance and uniform consistency would become boring.

I don't necessarily foresee a 'Big Brother society' where everyone knows where everyone else is, in a barrage of constant updates through colleagues, friends, relationships, all the way to acquaintances and the people frankly you cannot stand to be around.

But with so many services, and so many to choose from, I suspect the younger generation may suffer the most. The older generations have letters, email and phone calls, and the younger ones have Facebook, Twitter and granted, email too, but linked in with instant messaging and social networking.

Then again, it falls down to adaptability and the appropriateness of such. And as I am in the thick of it with my fellow colleagues, I know all too well that this is something we as an entire demographic need to work on.

Editorial standards