PictoChat

"Are we there yet?"

I can't believe she's actually asking. It's not something kids actually say. It's a punchline. It's a movie quote or a book title. And yet, here she is, the words slipping out through her lips like a snake's tongue of boredom.

"I already told you, I'm not answering that question." The internal contradiction of the statement is not lost on me. I add it to the dung heap of parental inconsistency that will plague me in her teen years.

"But I'm so bored," she continues, drawing the words out in the tortured drawl only a child can achieve.

It's been a long week, this annual pilgrimage to the pool which happens to be attached to my in-laws. The kids and their cousins have been hyperactive for 5 days: eating, not-sleeping, swimming, arguing, pretending, and of course, playing too many video games.

"Why don't you play something on your DS?" I cajole, working my self deeper into the bad-dad hall of fame. I imagine myself a kind of pusher, proffering the addict's preferred drug so as to close the sale.

"I'm tired of all my games." I know this feeling too well to offer up argument. But then I have a rare moment of clarity, and turn on my own DS.

"Turn your DS on and hit the 'PictoChat' button."

She does. And for the next hour, we proceed to have a heart-to-heart chat, an entertaining one illustrated with hand-drawn smiley faces and the occasional unintelligible gibberish.

Text interactions are simply different than oral ones. 12 years ago, while courting my wife, I was relocated to Australia for several months. It was a critical stage in our relationship, and given my unthinkable luck in her even paying attention to me, I was terrified she would find someone cuter, richer, and funnier than me while I was gone. So I found her a leftover company laptop and we continued our courtship every night on IRC.

The barrier of time and distance was very real, but the barriers between us as people seemed less important when we were typing. Rather than sitting on the phone, thinking of things to say, filling in the awkward silences, we were instead connected asynchronously. We had time to compose our thoughts. Time to let the silences simply be.

Even when we weren't chatting, we remained connected. I'd begin my work day as she headed for bed, but if a random thought occurred to me, or I just wanted a ping that she was still there thousands of miles away, a simple "ILU" in the chat window would suffice.

Today, my wife and I work from home. We're both writers, but she has the added burden of being the primary caregiver for our kids. She wakes at 5, writes for a few hours, and begins her second, much harder and more important job. In the evenings, kids asleep, she researches and drafts. I, on the other hand, work a fairly standard schedule. Most of our interaction is again asynchronous -- our lives intermediated by a mail server in Florida and the big AIM server farm in the sky.

During the course of both our working days, we're in constant communication -- but only rarely by voice. Instead, we maintain a near constant connection through instant messenger, whether on phones or on computers. If the phone rings and it's for me, she will IM me, two floors away, to tell me to pick up. I IM her as I head out the door for lunch, even though a yell up the stairs would suffice.

These connections aren't distancing -- they're entangling. The level of our codependence is deep, but we wouldn't have it any other way. Without IM, we'd be one of those saccharin couples calling each other ten times a day from cubicle to cubicle, engaging in pointless invocations of "no, you hang up."

This level of text-driven intimacy is not unique to my wife. In a very real way, most of my meaningful communication is carried out through a keyboard. My employers, clients, editors, colleagues -- most of my professional life -– is carried out through email and IM.

This keyboard dominated existence has had a reactionary effect in what I do in my "free time." When playing games, I am drawn to environments where voice-chat is the default, and with my purchase of an Xbox LIVE Camera, where video makes sense. But in almost all cases, the voice-chat is with people with whom my primary relationship is still text. Just as conference calls and the occasional face-to-face meeting are important for teleworkers, so to is a voice-chat enabled game session critical to having a sense that there are real people on the other side of the keys.

But what shame I may have felt, down amongst the laundry fuzz in the corners of my self-worth, that I lived behind a shield of pixels and clacking keys, disappeared when I sat with my daughter, exchanging observations about life, vacations, Hannah Montana and the trials of having a younger brother. The 4 LCD screens, styli and short-distance WiFi penetrated where ears and mouths and air molecules couldn't.

With PictoChat, we were no longer authority and dependent. We were, for a brief time, on the same page. Doodles and all.

Comments

While the electronic medium is absolutely better for many situations and practices, don't you think that we as a society are losing more of what makes a community, a friendship group or a family by relying more on electronic communication over a simple word or a meeting in person? Is it better to communicate with your children through a device because it's easier and more effective than it is to attempt a real conversation regardless of how more difficult it may seem?

I have written more on a subject and have read an interesting subject of disconnect and loneliness due to electronic communications of the modern age. If you feel like exploring the topic more than visit My LJ Here for that post and article link.

I feel like pulling out my DS right now and head for the nearest hotspot... Nah!

Heh, never found anyone else to speak to on pictochat... don't know anyone with a DS except myself

I just wish you could store things on it... done some great drawings from time to time.

kilroy, the only problem i see is that we lose the ability to communicate facially and emotionally. Without practice these very important close-up social skills (that research has proven teenagers are deficient in) fail to develop and can regress, leaving a much larger opening for misunderstandings and arguments.

I know exactly what you mean Rabbit, my wife and I went through the same type of situation as you did, she was in California, while I was in Denmark. Without IM programs I don't see how we would have worked it out to the point we are at now. And of course we have continued using IM to chat even when we live together. There is definately a difference in the way we communicate when we chat compaired to talking.

Kilroy,

I do not deny that these kinds of relationships can be extremely transient and hollow. My argument is two fold:

1: They don't have to be.
2: It's different when you actually have a personal connection in the first place.

I have countless meatspace friends and acquaintances with whom I've lost contact, perhaps for good. People from old jobs, college, ex-girlfriends, folks who used to come over for BBQs in different cities, members of gaming groups, sports teams, you name it. Those that I remain connected to -- whom I would miss if they dissapeared, and whose contact brings joy to me -- are universally the ones with whom I've managed to maintain an email, and increasingly IM relationship.

If it were the case that my IM list was full of folks I'd never met or talked to on the phone, than I agree completely that a sense of detachment and indeed loneliness might overcome me. But as it is, I feel much more connected and involved in the daily lives of those people.

THere's a big difference between that and the casual connection of (for instance) a forum community. Forum communities are like the guys at the bar you see on Sundays for an hour -- they learn your name and buy you a beer once in a while, because of a common connect, but thats usually about it.

As for losing a knack for body language and facial communication -- I can totally see this. The flip side, I hope, would be an increased ability to use language effectively. OK, a bit of a stretch.

It's funny... I've been typing on various keyboards since I was 13. That means for 21 years (come to think of it I got my first computer 21 years ago almost to the day). I work with keyboards. I play with keyboards. I socialize with keyboards. But somehow I've come to have a... umm... don't know what to really call it. It's not a repulsion. Or anger. Or rejection. More like a gentle ambivalence. Or rather... I feel that keyboards are unnecessary. And mildly unwanted when it comes to communicating with other people. I have email. But if Google didn't tell me if I had a new message every time I tried to find some morsel of information on the great wide web, I probably wouldn't check it for weeks at the time. My phone does SMS. I dispise it. I would much rather pick up a phone and chat. Or even better: get off my butt and talk to people. At work, I will get up and walk 5 meters to my manager's office every time I have a question, rather than email him, or IM him.

I think there comes the time when, even keyboard communication needs to be taken in moderation.

THe last (and first) Pictochat conversation I had was with a larger lady possessed of a wonky eye. She just drew penises all the time.

1Dgaf wrote:

THe last (and first) Pictochat conversation I had was with a larger lady possessed of a wonky eye. She just drew penises all the time.

The stuff of nightmares.... seriously. *Shudders*

Wait, you had this conversation with your daughter while driving? Do people still drive on family vacations?

While I am a strong fan of both meat desires and meat communication, I also really like that the temporal gap in "instant" messages can allow for more thoughtful interaction -- or at least better syntax -- in the right contexts. Certainly a balance must be struck that takes into account the desires, needs, and convenience of the parties involved. It sounds like you've found one with your wife, Rabbit, and I congratulate you for that.

As many Goodjers can attest, I'm much more articulate and charming when I have a chance to review before I hit "submit." I may also be prettier.

rabbit wrote:

... or I just wanted a ping that she was still there thousands of miles away, a simple "ILU" in the chat window would suffice.

YOUNG LOVERS!!!

I'm in complete agreement with rabbit's follow-up post. I would have lost track of a lot of RL friends if not for communication through online text or gaming. Of course, if I had let these relationships slide, I may be forced to make new friends and would then know my neighbor's name.

1Dgaf wrote:

THe last (and first) Pictochat conversation I had was with a larger lady possessed of a wonky eye. She just drew penises all the time.

subtle, that one

Bazarov wrote:
1Dgaf wrote:

THe last (and first) Pictochat conversation I had was with a larger lady possessed of a wonky eye. She just drew penises all the time.

subtle, that one

Do you know her daughters?

whatever happened to GWJ chat?

I have never used pictochat on my DS before. I have however played with some of the various paint/scratch pad style options some of the IM clients offer. Sometimes it's just entertaining to draw retarded pictures and bounce them back and forth in the IM window rather than typing away.

As far as IM communication goes I think in a lot of ways it is superior to voice communication. When I am working on something and someone calls me I have to stop what I am doing, pick up the phone, and talk to them which breaks my thought process. While the conversation continues I have to devote a somewhat constant level of attention to the person on the phone. This essentially means I cannot concentrate or at least devote as much attention to what I am working on as what I would like. The more "real time" nature of a phone conversation simply requires a lot of attention.

Had the person calling me chosen to IM me instead, I can get to a logical stopping point in what I am working on and respond to them. I can then pick up what I am working on again and continue along to the next logical stopping point before replying to their next message. In addition to this I can typically carry on 15 different conversations at the same time without having to worry about losing track of any of them. A quick reread of the previous lines of the conversation allows me to continue where I left off no matter how many different trains of thought I have going. This to me is ridiculously more efficient while working.

Email IMO is only really a plus when you need to pass on a lot of information to multiple people, you need to cover your ass, or you are corresponding with someone you don't really talk to regularly. Otherwise I think phone conversations have email beat.

On the downside I will say that all of this online communication has done severe damage to my ability to carry on a conversation. Used to the convenience of IM/Chat/whatever based conversation I find my mind wandering to other things. It makes for a lot of awkward silences and "What was I just saying?!" type comments.

I use Trillian Pro for all my IM needs. It conveniently keeps the entire history of everything I've every said, not just in some history file, but scrollable all the time. It's invaluable.

As for GWJ chat, I think the problem with 'chat rooms' is that they lose thread too quickly, and they just sit there. I don't need to talk to 20 people at once very often.

People hiding behind keyboards drive me crazy.

Obviously, I come to this website to read typed out stories; it's the internet. I'm never the one to post a "TLDR", because it seems ridiculous to me that someone would come to the internet, a land of text and static images (though, changing recently with the likes of youtube etc), and be annoyed to find all these words.

That said, I really enjoy the GWJ site because of the Conference Call. It's the defining part of this site, to me personally. Text is obviously a powerful tool. You can do things with it that you can't with voice. One of the more powerful features is to remove the actual author from the body of text altogether. To become "the narrator" rather than whoever is typing it up.

But to enter "bbl, out to lunch" into an IM client instead of hollering it up the stairs just seems a little odd to me. Sleeping baby? Ok, sure. Makes perfect sense then. But in the absence of such a reason, I find it very strange. Were your wife to become sick, and have a stay in the hospital, would you sit by her bed and tell her you love her, or buy her a blackberry and txt her "i <3 u"?

Embracing technology is important, but we need to remember to stay connected as people in the end.

edited for Certis, to include the Shift function of my keyboard.

Capital letters please, isobelle. It's the LAW.

Great writeup Rabbit. I know exactly what you're talking about. My son loves his DS, and we mess around with Pictochat every now and then. When we first got the DSs, we would even play a game of hide and seek around the house or outside using clues drawn on the Pictochat. That is a defining example of how technology, when used creatively, can expand and offer new experiences. And you know what? I cherish those DS chatting moments just as much as being right next to him doing any other activity.

Swat: Very cool

Certis: Man, you can be a prick sometimes!

Isobelle: I completely understand your reaction. I'm certainly not advocating that everyone stop talking to each other, nor am I suggesting that the only conversations I have with my family happen from the other side of a wall. Quite the opposite. Most likely I wouldn't yell up the stairs for quite a few reasons. The first is that yes, there most likely is a sleeping toddler. Second is that she is in fact working, and thus I don't want to break her train of thought if she's knee deep in something. And third is because, to be honest, it's habit now.

If anything, my wife and I are criticized for being unseemingly connected in public, engaging in ridiculous and embarrassing public displays of affection. My daughter is constantly reminding me how embarrassing it is to watch us kiss, hold hands, and god forbid, dance in the aisles of target when some song from our youth comes on the loudspeaker system. IM isn't replacing what might be other avenues of communication as I think it's augmenting it.

But that said, there are friends a thousand miles away that I talk to, by all appearances, constantly, because of IM. My "main" IM list has roughly 29 people on it (I just counted). There's not one of those people I haven't had SOME touch with in the last few days. I don't know many people who can say that about phone calls, or even office conversations beyond the most meaningless water cooler "hey."

But I do get your point.

This is the kind of article that brought me to GWJ in the first place. The impact of our hobbies on our lives and vice versa is a favorite subject of mine. My brother and I, when he first went away to college, stayed in touch primarily through subspace. A different medium (is the message!) can bring new dimensions to a relationship of any kind, which always have new levels and deeper meanings. Just as some stories are more suited to print or film, some statements or conversations are more suited to written or typed correspondence than face-to-face chat. When I just can't seem to get a girl to understand what I'm trying to say, and she insists on being mad about it I write her a poem explaining myself. She'll typically come back to me after reading it, asking "well why didn't you just say that?"

I was trying!

Very well done. But don't forget that pictochat
molests our children.

stupidhaiku wrote:

When I just can't seem to get a girl to understand what I'm trying to say, and she insists on being mad about it I write her a poem explaining myself. She'll typically come back to me after reading it, asking "well why didn't you just say that?"

Aha! Maybe THAT'S why she married me!

Electronic communication used in a constructive manner such as a quick IM for a grocery list, a quick conversation when you are unable to otherwise speak or through normal email and forum chit chat and discussions and all such interactions in "support" to real world connections are by all means a good thing. I do not want to portray myself as someone against any electronic medium because I am as guilty as any of it's uses. However my concerns are based upon those humans that supplement or otherwise more aggressively replace personal real life interactions, in relation to their social interactions with other people, by the electronic medium itself. These individuals, which are a growing number as seen by studies as well as evidence shown upon this forum medium and many others out there including, in most recent times, online games (e.g. WoW, Second Life and other interactive and strongly social MMOGs) may find that they become dependent upon the electronic medium and so lose touch of in a sense their humanity. Social reinforcement, in a physical reality sense, is much more human in nature and contact over a mere graphical or text based one. One could place a similar argument upon the telephone to some respect 80 years ago or more recently the cellular phone craze. When once one might go next door and knock on their respective friend's door to speak with them or perhaps even call before heading out to see if they want to come with, now more often than not we call when already on location or in route giving our friends hardly the opportunity to share in the experience. The conclusion is easily yes or no based upon whether they want to drive to meet you someplace rather than getting ready for you to pick them up on the way someplace. Now it's even less personal, having thrown the interaction of voice to the winds of ether we leave a simple text message flashing on their IM messenger. Whether they get it or not you don't know and rarely do you care. It's simply an invite, an after thought even. A more sincere invite might be followed up by a SMS message on their cellular phone or the rare occurrence of actually making a call. This degradation of personal human contact and communication lends relevantly to our misunderstanding of not only each other but of the very meaning of the words we use to communicate. It also decidedly demonstrates why our culture cares little about each other and places more value upon ourselves. For example, do we know who are next door neighbors are? Do we care honestly? Some communities may still practice neighborhood get together functions but they are far and few between more an odd rarity than anything. Such mystery and not knowing each other then leads to fear and mistrust. Who is our neighbor? Is he, she or they criminals, voyeurs, homosexuals, child molesters, government agents, Morons, Muslims and most recently terrorists? My LJ post on this topic is more along the lines of friendships and the such but the correlation extends much further than just that. It extends into our very lives, our interactions, our culture and our society. It effects more than simply you but also me, your family, your friends, your neighbors and on and on. Technology is a great thing in our world and it's expansion and liberation to further itself faster than it ever has in the known history of the world is an amazing thing however there can be no doubt that we have sacrificed much more base human interactions, morals and communications in our acceptance of it. If at all possible we must find a good balance that not only best uses this new technology in ways to further more effective and efficient conversation of ideas but also demonstrates that we have no lost touch with humanity and ourselves.

Those are my thoughts on this. Cheers.

P.S. For those that might misunderstand me and believe that I might be speaking of any of you as individuals need not worry because I am not. I speak of the whole using the general we and the ambiguous you of intent.

Learn
to
use
the
enter
key.

Seriously, trying to navigate a block of text like that on screen is difficult.

[edit] Just checked your LJ and you don't do it there.... are you trying to imply that GWJ and co. are lesser than LJ?

rabbit wrote:
stupidhaiku wrote:

When I just can't seem to get a girl to understand what I'm trying to say, and she insists on being mad about it I write her a poem explaining myself. She'll typically come back to me after reading it, asking "well why didn't you just say that?"

Aha! Maybe THAT'S why she married me!

Wait, you found a woman who understands poetry? How subtle are your metaphors?

Duoae wrote:

Learn
to
use
the
enter
key.

I'm not a fan of your line breaks. Is it supposed to be a shaped poem of some kind?

Funny, I thought I was the only one who found playing PictoChat with their kid to be as entertaining as playing an actual DS game.

On our vacation last week my 4 year old daughter and I enjoyed some time doodling random fun pics for each other on her pink DS. It's actually a great feature for a kid that age. She loves drawing and loves when Dad doodles with her.

We try to keep the DS handy for both kids so random "I'm boooorrrred" moments are more tolerable. So while I don't always have crayons and paper on hand I likely have easy reach to one of the family DS's and a good session of Picto doodling.

Duoae wrote:

Learn
to
use
the
enter
key.

Seriously, trying to navigate a block of text like that on screen is difficult.

[edit] Just checked your LJ and you don't do it there.... are you trying to imply that GWJ and co. are lesser than LJ?

;)

Aww man, you're gonna scare people away!

Kilroy, I don't think I disagree with the meat of what your saying. There's little question that the internet in general can be a source of detachment. But oddly, while I see the evidence of shrinking community borders in the real world, I find myself in the opposite position, living in an extremely tight local community full of friendships, activities, meals, etc., that simply wouldn't thrive if we couldn't all chat during the day through some form of intermediated communication -- cell phones on down to IM.

Like any tool, it can be used well and poorly.

Rabbit great article, Must now go play pictochat with kids. Will email reminder to home email

MoonDragon wrote:

I have email. But if Google didn't tell me if I had a new message every time I tried to find some morsel of information on the great wide web, I probably wouldn't check it for weeks at the time. My phone does SMS. I dispise it. I would much rather pick up a phone and chat. Or even better: get off my butt and talk to people. At work, I will get up and walk 5 meters to my manager's office every time I have a question, rather than email him, or IM him.

I totally agree with this statement. I have always been a pick up the phone and call person. However, age, kids, responsibilities have made it harder. I now find that for my strongest relationships with my friends, IM is great. with the occasional phone call and less occassional in person visit keeps the friendship strong and tied together.

Email works for older friends who you would have lost touch with 10 years ago were it not for the world of digital communication. They are far away, but don't require a daily touch. Email is also good for those who are not connected all the time which is a much larger group then those who are ever connected like Rabbit and many other GWJers.

The phone I find is very important generationally. Older family and friends find the phone a better way to communicate and I seem to support them in that by using it. Heaven forbid I IM my dad. Assuming he sees the window at all, he really doesn't type and the whole interaction for both sides ends up being long, slow, tedious and unfulfilling. Phone is much better.

Lastly, in person. This is the best of all forms of communication imho. The others all build to support it and keep a relationship with friends, family and lovers active and healthy, but in person communication is the best. Its like going on a Big Chill weekend. Even if it is only an hour it is very fulfilling. That being said, IM fills the gap with some of my best friends when due to time or distance we can't see each other daily or weekly. As they say its much better then nothing. So I want it all, but could very well make due with in-person and IM communication only.

I used to spend a ton of time playing console games and LAN games with some of the folks I have been friends with for many years. As we've grown older and picked up the responsibilities that come along with adulthood finding time to do that gets more and more difficult. X-Box Live, MMOs, etc do a damned good job of picking up a lot of the slack. Is it as good as the drunken nights of Goldeneye and smack talking? Not really. However when I can "spend time" several nights a week with friends I would otherwise only see once or twice a year I think it's the greatest thing ever. *shrug*