About being relevant when Blogging or when FaceBook users start to worry

When studying ambiguity and superficiality on the Net I dived deep into Pragmatic literature, Paul Grice, Dan Sperber, Deirdre Wilson, Stephen Levinson… I do not want to involve in the quarrels between the different schools but one of them raised more interest than the others: the school headed by Dan Sperber and Deirde Wilson, both propagators of the Relevance Theory. Maybe you are not at all interested in pragmatics, you should at least have read ‘How do we communicate’, if you want to be considered as an intellectual and not as a farmer or docker – by the way I myself still prefer to be considered as steelworker, I was for a fairly long time anyway. ‘How do we communicate’ is even translated into Dutch and published in  Rainbow Pockets[1].  But I will quote from another text now, where Wilson and Sperber define what’s relevant in speech:

“Intuitively, an input (a sight, a sound, an utterance, a memory) is relevant to an individual when it connects with background information he has available to yield conclusions that matter to him: say, by answering a question he had in mind, improving his knowledge on a certain topic, settling a doubt, confirming a suspicion, or correcting a mistaken impression. In relevance-theoretic terms, an input is relevant to an individual when it’s processing in a context of available assumptions yields a positive cognitive effect.”  (Dan Sperber, Deirdre Wilson,  2004)

Relevance in speech means that we understand an utterance because we can connect it to our available background information. That’s the way we disambiguate ambiguities, pick out the information that’s usefull for us:

“The central claim of relevance theory is that the expectations of relevance raised by an utterance are precise enough, and predictable enough, to guide the hearer towards the speaker’s meaning. The aim is to explain in cognitively realistic terms what these expectations of relevance amount to, and how they might contribute to an empirically plausible account of comprehension.” (Dan Sperber and Deirdre Wilson, 2004)

Relevance theory thus aims to explain what expectations of relevance amount to. In speech the common ground, the social clues, the situation, the intonation… in one word the context which composed of a linguistic AND an extra-linguistic reality.

As to Paul Grice, the founder of pragmatic linguistics, an essential feature of most human communication, both verbal and non-verbal, is the expression and recognition of intentions. In speech understanding each other depends a lot on the measure a communication is overt or not. On the Net, we can not speak of overt communication. In fact it never is because we do not show our faces, not because we don’t want to, but because we cannot. A lot of what we doing in the net is blown into the dark. Nobody is asking us to make a website, a web log, we become broadcasters in the dessert hoping some camel caravan will pass. We have to syndicate our webs, blogs OR we can try to connect with other websites, blogs starting some communication in cyberspace…

A question a blogger put’s to himself, should put to himself when blogging:  “Is it relevant what I’m writing? To whom? When? How… Why should it?” Well it wasn’t on my mind when I started blogging. I just wanted to write about things I liked to write about, but after some bizarre encounters on the Net I started to question more and more what I was doing? If it was relevant?

While still trying to syndicate, propagate my content, I’m also looking to connect with other blogs, but relevance matters in both strategies. I started to analyse the statistitics, for all the referrers page and the search terms WordPress offers to it’s bloggers. Though I’ve published a great amount of texts meanwhile on a plethora of subjects, tagged them well, I couldn’t find a clue in it until today.

Creative commons has been for long my Net ideology, so I publish about it now and then, for all when they are threatened. See for instance “Copyright dogmatism ridiculously strikes the European Parliament“. What’s often misunderstood when people put texts on the net, be it copyleft or under a creative commons licence: that this would mean that anybody can do with these texts what they want. Not at all! You can coppy ‘creative commons’ texts on my blog if you leave the untouched, if you mention the origine and if you do not use them for commercial puposes. Of course the big commercial platforms see things differently. Content, they do not have from their selves but from their users means money. Your search terms also mean money for Google. These guys, Gates and alike, are always on the edge of robbing and stealing while being anxious you steal from them. Robbers have to hide their loot well in a cave for instance like the one Ali Baba opened with the magic word Sim Sala Bim, Open Sesame! So Facebook recently changed its Terms of Service stating:

“You hereby grant Facebook an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to (a) use, copy, publish, stream, store, retain, publicly perform or display, transmit, scan, reformat, modify, edit, frame, translate, excerpt, adapt, create derivative works and distribute (through multiple tiers), any User Content you (i) Post on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof subject only to your privacy settings or (ii) enable a user to Post, including by offering a Share Link on your website and (b) to use your name, likeness and image for any purpose, including commercial or advertising, each of (a) and (b) on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof.” (Facebook’s New Terms Of Service: “We Can Do Anything We Want With Your Content. Forever.”)

Facebook wants to do what they want with your content for ever!

I was shocked and put the message an my blog and shared the link immediately on my Facebook account.  When I started typing this message the text was read yet more than 30 times, while I have only 15 friends on FaceBook. I’m only there – I’m a serious blogger you know – because 2 of my daughters are there. I think, that link I shared was relevant to other Facebook users. Well I can see it on the referrers page, they clicked on it. Also bizarre. My kids have been looking  suspiciously towards my intense blogging activity, refusing even to look at it, and today I got the message of one of them:

“ik begon met het videofragmet van “what bolivia teaches us”. ik vond het echt super interessant en wil er misschien iets mee doen. het wa wel ene erg lang fragment dus ik besefte ook dat vanals ik hieraan begin ik waarschijnlijk heel de dag zou kunnen vullen door jou blogs te lezen… het zijn echt bommen van informatie!”

One of the first things I learned from communication scholars about blogging: “Face book works like a leaflet, like a petition for web content! I’s real good syndication” I asked if it also worked in the long run. They didn’t know. Anyway I started to put regularly videos I collected for my blog on Facebook, and linked them to my Blog. No reactions, a fiew maybe, but nothing significant. When I asked for feedback to my kids, they answered: ‘But Daddy, there are so many messages about your blog on Facebook, we do not read them anymore…” My kids, at least they were honest. The fact is, when you put something on Facebook; it has to be relevant, otherwise it goes by unnoticed.  I think I’m starting to get it.

Referenced text

Sperber, Dan, Wilson, Deirdre, 2004, Relevance Theory. In Horn, L.R. & Ward, G. (eds.) (2004) The Handbook of Pragmatics. Oxford: Blackwell, 607-632, Online http://www.dan.sperber.com/relevance_theory.htm


[1] Sperber, Dan,  1999, ‘Hoe communiceren wij?’,  in Simpele Feiten, ed. John Brockman en Katinka Matson, Rainbow Pockets, pp.214-223

See Also

All texts about this MetaBlog Action Research Project

Copyright dogmatism ridiculously strikes the European Parliament

Facebook’s New Terms Of Service: “We Can Do Anything We Want With Your Content. Forever.”

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