Social Packets

The recent move to Cambridge has cut down drastically on my travel time, meaning that I now flux more strongly from being “at home” to being “at speed” (previous to the move, I simply stayed at a steady 8.5mph average for life, or about a flight a week). The way I’ve best found to describe the accompanying modes of communication is TCP versus UDP. From Wikipedia:

Browsers use it when they connect to servers on the World Wide Web sites, and it is used to accurately deliver email and transfer files from one location to another. Applications that do not require the reliability of a TCP connection may instead use the connectionless User Datagram Protocol (UDP), which emphasizes low-overhead operation and reduced latency rather than error checking and delivery validation. (Emphasis added)


What I mean is this: TCP is a lot of checking in and ensuring that the receiver is ready to get a packet and that they got the same packet you sent. This is what it is to be “at home.” There is a continual back-and-forth with a set group of people, lots of checking in and building. UDP, on the other hand, is what “at speed” feels like – lots of broadcast, but not a whole lot of making sure the message lands, nor what to build with it. Whole lot more being pushed out, but very little (if any) assurance of message being heard.

To put it another way, when bouncing around the world (as lovely at it is), there is no closed loop back to me letting me know that what I am doing matters. It is sending packets into the breech, shouting into the abyss. There are constant new introductions, and not a whole lot of processing. And shifting from that to the TCP of home is a non-zero effort. Suddenly, it is expected not only to adapt action to context, but to know how to receive the packets which define context. It is absolutely worthwhile, but it does take awareness and effort.

Now let’s extrapolate this to social expectations and what sociologists call the Halo Effect, which is a way of looking at cognitive bias. When we have all these packets going back and forth, we have an easier time processing if we have some filters in place. We can expect that our dear friend so-and-so will often talk about a shared interest. We also know they have our best interests at heart. To take every packet as a unique instance gives us very dense information, but also requires a lot of processing power (which means those power cycles are being allocated to that, rather than other things).

When filters set in place for optimizing exchanges are incorrect, packets get dropped. Sometimes, the social situation crashes from too many packets being dropped. It becomes possible to only be heard by sending packets which are recognizable based on existing filters. Which, in turn, makes those filters seem correct. No need to examine those filters if they seem to be correct and working. Extra credit if you want to talk about filters and addressing tables picked up from the other people in your network, and how that can be detrimental or useful.