We bind through talk

September 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

“Note that insofar as participants in an encounter morally commit themselves to keeping conversational channels open and in good working order, whatever binds by virtue of system constraints will bind also by virtue of ritual ones. The satisfaction of ritual constraints safeguards not only feelings but communication, too.” Erving Goffman

Goffman here is pointing out that not only does talk function as a system, but that ritual practices accompanying talk complement system rules. These kinds of rituals involve paying attention, taking turns at talking, maintaining eye contact, controlling physical behavior, and so on. They’re not absent from our use of social tools, but they’re modified. Much of what we design, when we design tools for social use, is in support of these ritual practices. Invisible, perhaps, from a UI perspective, but nonetheless “there.”

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