Notes and thoughts on communication and philosophy.

Blog by Elmine Wijnia.

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The strength of blogging

According to Habermas, language forms the basis of communicating. He uses the so called 'speech act theory' from Austin and Saerle to explain what happens whilst communicating (I'm not going to exlain what it all means, it's simply too much :). With every speech act (e.g. command, ask, declare) we make certain claims:

This means that while you are communicating to an other person you may reject the things that are said under each of these aspects. If you know that a person makes claims about the truth that you know are not true at all, you move on in the conversation by stating that the other person is not speaking according to the truth. This does not mean that a person also is untruthful at the same time, because the claims that person made about the truth can be based on a lack of the proper information. If the other person deliberately makes claims about the truth that are not factual true, this person is not acting communicatively but strategically. Then this persons intentions are to manipulate the other and also is not acting truthfully.

To be able to judge whether a person acts right, truthful and refers to the truth you need context about a person. Now in face-to-face meetings this can be judged best I think. People are able to pick up the smallest of signals indicating whether a person is being sincere. The way a person smiles, the way s/he shakes your hand, the way the person talks all give signals that add up to our judgement of a person.

But what happens if you're deprived of all those small clues? How are we able to judge a person in mediated communication? Especially through internetcommunication we have problems with this issue. Talking through the phone to eachother still gives some clues through intonation of the voice, it is a direct conversation which means that you get immediate and spontaneous reaction, you can hear someone laugh. Through e-mail, chatchannels and fora you have less clues. People have been aware of that and even used this lack of personal information to create 'unreal' identities.

To have real conversation through the internet, in terms of Habermas, we need context of a person to be able to judge whether we can trust someone. Weblogs are a good startingpoint to be able to get more clues. One can 'follow' a blog over time and judge whether the blogger is consistent over time, knowledgeable, sincere, truthful. You get clues about a certain style of someone just by looking at the interface of the blog. Often there is an 'about-page'. In this way the weblog is a far richer medium than chatting and discussionfora and that makes it a very strong medium for communication on the internet.

It becomes more interesting when people use a blog as a 'communicationhub'. You write in your blog about things you want to write about and allow readers to comment on that. It is interesting to see that other ways of communicating with the blogger are often being offered. Most bloggers offer an e-mail address for instance. Far more interesting is the use of VoIP (e.g. Skype) among bloggers, or adding each other to chatlists and sharing images of webcams. Combining different types of communication makes the possibilities for communicative action stronger.

So the weblog serves as a filter for reaching out to people with shared interests. While initiating contact through a weblog, you can intensify contact through VoIP, webcams and chatting etc. which adds up to a better judgement of the blogger behind the text.

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This is why we need discourse according to Habermas

I haven't been blogging much lately, because I was writing my first draft of the chapter about Habermas' theory. My mentor told me to ask a question to Habermas that can be answered with his theory of communicative action. The question I asked: what is actually (good) communication? With that in mind I was able to take the two volumes of The theory of communicative action in my hand and look for interesting passages. A task that takes pretty much time and I'm glad I've got the English translation of his work. Reading in very formal German is just a bit over the top for me.

The general outline of the answer to what communication is, goes as follows:

We communicate to reach understanding. There are different types of action: intrumental action, strategic action and communicative action. Only the latter is a type of action which is oriented to reaching understanding.

Reaching understanding is a way of searching for true knowledge. Knowledge is bound between subjects according to Habermas and therefore true knowledge is time and situation bound. When people feel the need that certain validityclaims are not acceptable anymore (thus want to redefine true knowledge), they can switch to a higher level of communication: discourse. Discourse can be seen as a discussion that must meet up to certain conditions. Those conditions together are called an ideal speech situation which can be seen as 'good' communication (see also my earlier entry on Habermas).

What I'm going to investigate is whether weblogs meet up to these conditions of an ideal speech situation. Second, it's not for sure whether weblogging can be seen as a type of discourse. Habermas makes a distinction between discourse and different types of communicative action, the latter including conversation. Maybe blogging doesn't exceed the level of communicative action. But maybe the potential of this communication medium is bigger than it is used at the moment. I'm not sure what the outcome will be.

Maybe this entry raised more questions for you, but I hope to have made some things a little bit more clear.

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Since a while I've thought about installing Skype. And today I finally bought myself a headset and installed the program. Not that I know lots of people that use Skype, but it's a nice way to improve the connectivity through the internet. So Skype me!

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Family blogging

My mother has started a photoblog. Ton helped her out with building the templates in MT. She especially likes playing around with the macro-lens. Check out her photoblog at! She writes in Dutch, but leaving comments in another language won't be a problem.

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Proposal BT2.0 accepted

I'm getting a bit nervous. Last night Thomas Burg announced the names of the people who's proposals are accepted for BlogTalk 2.0. And my name's in the list too! So that means that I'll have to work very hard in the next months to make a really great article out of it (not that I had other plans ;).

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Froomkin about the internet

In Toward a critical theory of cyberspace, Michael Froomkin explains how the internet could be a place for public discourse. Here's an interesting passage:

Blogwalk seems to be the ultimate result of new communities of discourse, made possible by the medium weblog.

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