Aisha Walker

Thinking onscreen

Dimensional disparity


In Walker and White (2013) we discuss the idea that our physical proximity to digital devices may be part of the reason that we become so emotionally engaged by digital interactions.  It’s easy to develop a feeling of intimacy and closeness with someone whom you communicate online and, conversely, when unpleasant or uncomfortable things are said then we often take them personally and overreact.  The speed of the overreaction (it’s so easy to fire off a tweet, email or facebook message) can then cause the situation to escalate.  We hypothesised that part of the reason for this emotional engagement is that digital interactions usually take place within the personal boundary that Hall (1966) identified as ‘intimate space’.  Almost all personal digital communication is within arm’s length whether it is on a phone, a tablet or a ‘computer’ and the people we talk to are almost literally ‘in our faces’.  However, whilst ‘intimate space’ explains the rapid development of online intimacies and the pain caused by digital disagreements it goes only part of the way to explaining phenomena such as cyberbullying and ‘trolling’.  The recipients are stung because the messages posted by bullies and trolls are ‘in the recipient’s face’ but for the senders the potential victim is impossibly distant: someone who can’t be seen and may be only dimly imagined.  To the sender, there is no reason why anyone should be hurt by the abusive message or tweet because it is coming from so far away.   This dimensional disparity means that communication is sent at a distance and received in intimacy.  The result is that senders speak (write) as though they are shouting across a battlefield to an unseen foe but people hear (read) as though they were the words of an angry lover.  That is painful!Hall, E.T.  1966. The Hidden Dimension: man’s use of space in public and private. London: the Bodley Head
Walker, A. and White, G. (2013) Technology Enhanced Language Learning: connecting theory and practice Oxford: Oxford University Press

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