PRSonally Speaking

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Netspeak: The post-symbolic communication
 
by Arturo Prado, MD
 
“Google is the memory for the new superiority that will take over humanity”
Larry Page, Founder of Google.

We co-exist within a universal cyberspace. The language used is the “netspeak” with a “net lingua”. The people that use this language are real people of great diversity, whose output is largely unedited.

From a linguistic point of view this cybernetic language is much like slang, where one must know when and where to use it. From a psychological point of view it should be borne in mind, as the subject we are in contact with, is virtual, but computer technology does influence human behavior in their direction.
Online interlocutors can only retrieve information about each other from the text itself.  This may not be an entirely accurate representation of the truth as the medium provides anonymity.
 
The ability of chatters to graphically express emotions (round faces with eyes, eyebrows and lips) and simulate speech-phonology  (phonetic spelling) certainly gives the potential for gestural and linguistically created social-tension to exist.
In times where humanity coexists within a technological world, we are used to think that we are shaping technology. 

And what about if technology is shaping us?

I was trained with a symbolic communication that made possible translation of ideas in our mind into spoken or written language.
Language arrives late because reality is first; language tells us of what already exists; language is interpretation.

So for a symbol (gesture, picture, word, number) to represent an idea, it seems obvious that the idea must have preceded the symbol.

When a symbol is introduced, it must identify something that we can recognize, and it must be agreed upon and remembered before it can become a useful communication tool. With Internet we are transitioning into a communication era where spoken language is vanishing.

Facebook has lead us to share are thoughts through pictures, photos, thumbs up or thumbs down and online profiles. These Internet realities are described with a “post-symbolic language” that is able to cutout the liaison of symbols and instead engender a shared experience.

It was Jaron Zepel Lanier, an American computer scientist that introduced the idea of “post-symbolic communications” in the context of people interacting in a shared virtual world, popularizing the term “virtual reality”, and creating Atari video games, virtual reality goggles, gloves and earphones. In his words, in a virtual world  (like in Tron, Matrix or Avatars), a new way of communicating becomes possible, because representation of words can be replaced with instantiated entities that more directly reflect what is meant. Suppose two people who speak different languages are trying to communicate; person A would like to tell person B that “the needle holder broke”; person A cannot tell this to person B using spoken language; as both of them have access to a simulated reality computer terminal, and both put on their goggles, gloves and earphones and find themselves in a public virtual world, person A creates a virtual needle holder and breaks it. Assuming that the context in which it broke was already established (both people knew that somebody broke something), the interaction is largely sufficient to communicate what person A has wished to communicate. This is a “post symbolic communication” because a virtual needle holder is much more like a real needle holder than the sound. In this world, “virtual” tends to be used in reference to things that mimic their “real” equivalents.
 
In my opinion we must be aware of this form of communication especially if we are beginning to feel we are getting immersed into virtual reality 3D representations and specially when we are training future plastic surgeons that come to us after general surgery, where they have been using the ¨second life virtual world¨ where three 3D virtual reality environments simulate a standard hospital ward, an intensive care unit, and an emergency room with modules that incorporate common surgical scenarios as gastrointestinal bleeding, acute inflammation of the pancreas, and bowel obstruction.

In this second life virtual world, surgical residents of different levels of training, as well as attending surgeons manage virtual patients.

The new plastic surgery resident test us when they tell us that virtual training has shown that the more experience a surgeon has in real life, the better he or she scores in virtual life.
 
Arturo Prado is an associate professor of plastic and general surgery at the University of Chile School of Medicine.

References
Lanier, Jaron “You are not a gadget: a manifiesto” 2010, ISBN978-1-84614-341-0
Lanier, Jaron “Who owns the future” 2013,  ISBN9781846145223