A Synchronous Definition

I’ve been writing something of late, and much of it hinges on the definition of the word synchronous, or better yet, how the word is used.

When we use technologies like skype, google hangouts, and even telephones, these are generally referred to as synchronous communication. They have synchronous abilities in them however they also have several asynchronous functions that can override the synchronous features. In skype, we can shut off video or audio and use chat that can even expand communication over a period of days or weeks. Ditto with Google Hangouts, except this is more integrated to all of google services, I guess. With telephones, we can hang-up on people, effectively ending our presence in a conversation. And, with all such asynchronously-enhanced-synchronous-communication, there are elements of body language, delay, facial expression, and accepted norms that do not translate from face-to-face synchronous into digital synchronous.

Something about the asynchronously-enhanced-synchronous-medium amplifies the spoken word – my language students have always commented about how much more challenging it is to use target language over a telephone than it is to use over a table.

This would appear to be a recent distinction, because individual access to real-time media has emerged only in the past few decades. Is it that the common vocabulary just hasn’t caught up with technology? Or, are there two kinds of variables at play here (a sync/asyn divide and an analog/digital divide)? Or, is it something else?

I tend to think that the asynchronous-enhanced-synchronous-communication isn’t actually synchronous communication, but rather approaching synchronous while still being asynchronous.

It may seem like a small matter, but such small things matter these days. Distinctions of kind are not distinctions of degree.

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2 thoughts on “A Synchronous Definition

  1. I really like this point you make:

    >When we use technologies like skype, google hangouts, and even telephones, these are generally referred to as synchronous communication. They have synchronous abilities in them however they also have several asynchronous functions that can override the synchronous features.

    This hadn’t occurred to me before, but now that you have raised it, I can see that it is true – at least it is true for me.

    I wonder if the asynchronous abilities of synchronous online communication (i.e. not using video in a Skype call) is something to do with individual control (possibly even power) – that as individuals we cannot exercise – or is more difficult to exercise – in face-to-face synchronous communication.

    Food for thought 🙂

    Like

  2. I do think that ‘individual control’ is a common element here, and at the heart of a lot of technology progress. Such control is probably a good thing, but it’s tough not to wonder what an abundance of control means for the future.

    Like

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