How I Use Technology to Communicate

bblum invited me to respond to  this post on how he uses different technologies for communicating.  I used to use all of the technologies he talks about in a way very similar to him, although I never did any blogging.  Like him, I pretty much never sent text messages, and most of my communication took place over IRC or IM. Overall, my communication patterns stayed about the same for the past two and a half years.

Everything changed this August when my elbow started to hurt. I had quit my regular job in April and started working from home on a couple of start-ups. I realize now that I was using the computer way more than I had when I was at my office job.  When the pain set in, I started taking more breaks and limiting my computer use, but it was too little, too late. The strain on my body from overuse of my arms caused my fibromyalgia syndrome to flare up, which resulted in even more pain in my shoulders. I spent an entire week almost entirely cut off of the Internet, without using a desktop or laptop.

Starting to use the computer again was a major challenge. At the beginning of September, I could only use the computer for about 15 minutes at a time, no more than three times a day, with at least an hour break in between each session.  That left me in pain, unable to work more than an hour or so a day, and alone most of the time. This dramatically changed how I use technology to maintain my relationships.

i’m not sure what i would do if for some reason my irc channels all got abandoned. it would be as much of a blow as everybody graduating and moving away at once. ~ bblum

Funny he should say that. In my case, it’s as if I were the one who dropped off the face of the earth. IRC is now too physically taxing, and when I do have computer time I have to stay extremely focused and make every minute count.  Given the amount of work I already have to do via computer, I had to give up IRC entirely. I also had to give up reading blogs and webcomics: they were taking up too much of my extremely limited computer time.

I really, really miss being on IRC. My channels were communities where I could share any random thing I found online or any random thing that I was thinking about at any time. I could see what particular groups of my friends were talking about; I could maintain a pretty keen awareness of what people were interested in and how they were feeling.

With IRC gone, the range of technologies that I use and the ways I use them has changed dramatically. In-person communication matters more to me than ever, and I have spent a lot of time over the past couple of months traveling. If I can’t do work, at least I can spend time with people who are important to me, and I can try to make a new connections at conferences like Arse Elektronika and Transcending Boundaries.

Just as bblum started using more text messaging, I have, too.  It turns out that texting is now the way that I keep up with the closest friends I have who aren’t in Boston. I’m fortunate to have a couple of really good friends who stuck with me after I couldn’t be on IRC anymore. We use text messaging to arrange for phone calls and video chats, which make a huge difference during a long, lonely afternoon. I physically can’t carry on a long conversations over SMS, but at least I can let someone know that I’m thinking of them.

Email is a challenge. It’s not too hard for me to read, but replying takes a lot of time and energy. I do coordinate get-togethers with some of my Boston friends over email, and for that alone it’s worth it.

I’m still updating this blog, but I am posting much less frequently than I expected. Because I dictate long posts, I have to go back and edit them before I can post them. This means it can take a couple days’ worth of work time in order for me to finish one post. This is really frustrating, not only because I keep thinking of more things I want to write about, but also because I want to be reading (and commenting on) other people’s writing.

I joined Twitter as @vortacist at the end of August because it seems that a lot of sex-positive educators and activists use it as a medium. It takes a surprising amount of time and physical effort to make a good Twitter post: posting at the right time with the right hash tags, etc. I hate the fact that it’s not easy to have threaded conversations. It also seems awkward to jump into a conversation, or to start talking with a new person, because Twitter doesn’t lend itself to introductions the way that IRC does. I can follow what people are talking about, but Twitter feels very impersonal to me.

Because I have a lot of friends at Google, I now use Google+ for some of the things that I would have posted on IRC in the past. I can’t follow Google+ as closely as I could IRC, but I feel like I can make more targeted posts on G+ than I can on Twitter. The drawback is because I post so rarely, friends sometimes miss my posts as they get lost in the stream of more prolific posters. I feel like this didn’t happen over IRC: if there were a conversation going on, I could see people talking in-channel and feel fairly confident that they would notice if I added something to the conversation. Other times I might say something and no one would respond right away, but my comment would still be the most recent thing in the channel, and someone might respond later. With Google+, I have to count on people to organize their circles in a way that they won’t miss what I say.

Google+ is also challenging to use when talking about my blog since there is no way for people to respond anonymously. I really appreciate my friends who are comfortable enough to reply or to +1 my sex-positive posts, but overall I suspect I will never have the kind of conversations about my blog that I might have had on IRC.

I started using FetLife as vortacist about a week ago, much for the same reasons I joined Twitter. I have avoided it for a long time (for a variety of reasons which I won’t go into here). I’m still not exactly sure know how I’m going to use FetLife. So far, it’s mostly been useful to keep up with people I met at Transcending Boundaries, as an alternative to email.

Instead of blogs and RSS, I get most of my news now from podcasts. I can listen while I walk around the neighborhood, do physical therapy, or otherwise putter around the house. The voices and stories keep me company.

I am now up to about 30 minutes of computer use at a time, three sessions per day. I’m using dictation more (like in drafting this post). And I’ve started using a tablet computer to make some things easier on my body. I am just trying to do the best I can given my current capabilities.  While I used to be able to start casual conversations with people on IRC, now I’m reluctant to ask many of those text-based people to see me in person, call me, or have a video chat.

I am extremely thankful for the friends who have stayed with me, and I will keep trying to build and rebuild other connections in new ways.

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