The tyranny of presence

As I drove home from the dentist today, I listened to Spark on CBC.  Today Nora was interviewing Sandy Pentland about his idea of "honest signals," those things that we do/perceive in converstation that help us understand beyond what the language says.  It's the sort of thing I've heard a lot of people discuss over the years, especially in the context of telecommuting, collabortaion on the web, etc.

One of the things that is missing for me from a discussion like this is that if you are someone who is hyper-aware of these ques, as I am and many introverts are, you tend to find such face-to-face encounters incredibly draining.  I can't engage in a face-to-face (f2f) discussion without explicitly encountering the other's "honest signals," and the emotions they evoke.  I don't argue that there is value in getting all these non-verbal cues; however, I don't agree that communication that takes place without those cues--email, irc, wikis, twitter, forums, etc.--is necessarily lacking in the ways presented.

I myself spend most days working with colleagues around the world on open source projects.  Almost none of us are in the same office--I am currently working from home, which I do 3 days a week.  I find that by removing the constant "din" of so called "honest signals," I am sometimes better able to cope with the level of interaction necessary to do the work I do.  When I do go into the office, I'm in meetings all day long (f2f) or giving lectures in class (f2manyf).  I have learned to cope in such settings, as all introverts do, but I certainly don't prefer it.  Nor do I believe that the sorts of communication that take place in the work place, professional communication, are necessarily better suited to this mode.

Written communication provides me space to breath, think, and ponder.  I much prefer to interact with my wife and children in person.  However, when I work, I would rather that communication remained mediated behind the written word and the computer screen.