The Joy of Quiet

January 30, 2012

In one of your recent posts, you had apologized for a lack of return dialogue, and by all rights, I should do the same.  However, I will not.  As your buddy, Pico Iyer, recently wrote

We have more and more ways to communicate, as Thoreau noted, but less and less to say. Partly because we’re so busy communicating.

Since I haven’t had much to say recently, I’ve been embracing the joy of quiet.  I’m not really sure why, but perhaps I haven’t been in sufficient contact with my weak ties to hear interesting tidbits to pass on.  Although social media is different from email, if more people embraced the joy of quiet, I think the comment from an IEEE Spectrum article about information overload would no longer hold true.

Long ago, e-mail used to guarantee a next-day response; today employees respond to many of their messages slowly or not at all.  In the process, they may delay progress on key projects.  Catherine Durnell Cramton, an associate professor in the School of Management at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., identified e-mail silence as one of the biggest challenges facing geographically dispersed teams.  Let’s say Jack fails to answer Jill’s e-mail asking him to weigh in on an important question.  She may misinterpret his silence as indifference, when in fact he may be just too swamped or distracted to fashion a coherent response.  Misunderstandings like that can hamper a team’s performance.

As a side note, Barabasi‘s team has come up with a priority queuing model of correspondence delays in mail/email that explains empirical phenomena (as one might guess, there is a power law involved).  But they don’t seem to consider not having anything to say.

In all honesty, I don’t feel bad about not recently contributing to the conversation.  Perhaps this is because I am very much a proponent of liberty at the expense of equality, whether in conversations or in other spheres of life.  Everyone should have the opportunity to contribute to conversations if they so desire, but enforcing exact equality in repartee volume seems silly.  Though of course a 100-0 split is also somewhat silly.  Daron Acemoglu, has perhaps a nicer way of expressing what I am trying to say about liberty and equality

There are three different concepts here. One is equality of political power. The second is equality of opportunity, and the third is equality of economic outcome. It would be a very inefficient society if we imposed equality of economic outcomes, because the engines that create prosperity do require individuals to have property rights, to have incentives, so that they put in effort, work hard and invest. That will inevitably be associated with inequality, but if you try to stop that inequality it will create lots of inefficiencies and probably choke prosperity.

As he says, enforcing economic equality cannot stand, but giving all people equality of opportunity to pursue their desires and passions is a good thing.  Of course level of social mobility is another factor at play.  Let me not get into social mobility, but I do think some people just have a lustre of the eye that can overcome anything.  Let me also say that while I think equality can be sacrificed for liberty, I think duty and liberty are intertwined.

That is probably enough dismal pontification for one post.  So cast in the context of Pico Iyer’s view that social media may have deleterious effects, what did you learn about social business in your recent trip to Florida?  Any particularly interesting conversations worth relaying?  Also what did you learn about imagineering?


  1. […] mentioned, there was also one called “sampling for fun and profit.”  Coming back to your point about having or not having something to say, the actual social societal world and the social […]

  2. […] with the same question: what are the potential dark sides to social capital.  In a previous post, I had alluded to the tradeoff between liberty and equality, but he does even better and brings […]

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