Dan Regard’s post The Fragmentation of the Communication Container at EDD Update blog raises important practical EDD considerations. Plus it suggests what metaphysical question about meaning. 

Dan writes that “methods of communication have changed over the last few years”. At one time he expected that the web would lead to big, complex documents where all the connections were clear. Instead, our communications “have become shorter, and more frequent, rather than larger and more complex. What was once sent in one letter, is now sent in 3 emails, or 5 texts, or 10 tweets. The size is smaller, the frequency is greater.”

Dan, an EDD authority, concludes that EDD will be more about “archeology”, that is “re-assembling fragments of what once was… we will have more challenges (on the e-discovery side) to show complete conversations… Those conversations we do have will span days, not minutes. Sound bites will lend themselves to greater degrees of interpretation.” (emphasis added)

The EDD implications are clear. I want to pick up on Dan’s last comment about interpretation. I agree that as ‘the container fragments’, so too does meaning and intent. It can be hard enough to interpret old-fashioned back-and-forth dialogue after the fact. Scattering thread reduces clarity even more.

In real-time, the participants may remember where all the strands are or be inclined to interpret gaps in a positive light. But what happens after the fact, months or years later? As Dan suggests, just re-constructing the pieces is hard. It may be impossible. For example, 2 or more people may have a “conversation” simultaneously on Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, and Linkedin. The connection among and across media and time is in wetware (participants’ brains); explicit links may well be absent.

Historians or litigators may find it impossible to find all the pieces. Even if the participants are available and willing, they may be no more able to re-construct the full picture than a 3rd party. And even if you find all the pieces, do you face the moral equivalent of literary deconstructionism? Scattered text seems far more subject to interpretation than traditional media.

Litigators need to tell stories to win, historians to interpret. In the future, I suspect that far more stories and interpretations from scattered communications will be credible than what we have seen so far. Meaning and intent have always been hard to fathom. It looks like it will just get worse.