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I Hear Voices

March 28, 2005
Photo of a trucker hat reads: I hear voices

Without hesitation, I will say that SXSW 2005 was a great experience from both personal and professional perspectives. I’ve been struggling for the last two weeks though – trying to determine exactly what is different now.

Near the end of last week I figured it out: I hear voices.

When I read the blog of someone that I met at SXSW (especially people that I spent more than a few minutes with), I can hear their voice in my head as I read. I hear them emphasize certain words, I hear their pauses, I hear their unique accents. I have a much more complete picture in my mind.

Their words come to life – like they are telling me a story instead of me reading a story. I find myself curiously more “drawn in” by other people’s blogs, and I feel more engaged in the communication as though the words were somehow written for me. I know they weren’t specifically written for me, but my perception of them as such is my reality.

So What?

So now I have a number of questions, and I’d really love to hear your answers: Am I the only one that hears voices? When you read the blog of someone you met (at SXSW or another conference perhaps), does it change the way that you perceive that blog? Does it change the way you perceive that person?

I’m interested in hearing other people’s thoughts on this, because I am very interested in the implications for online communication and how we use blogs in business. Does online communication change when you’ve also had significant and meaningful offline communication with people?

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18 Responses

Comment by Geof F. Morris — Mar 28 2005 @ 6:05 pm


I run a Web community [~800 members of our forum], I’ve met between 5-10% of them in person. Most of the time, I hear their voices.

You are not alone! :)

Comment by Maxine — Mar 28 2005 @ 6:19 pm

First, the answer is “yes” – since meeting everyone at SxSW I’ve definitely experienced the phenomenon you’re speaking about, and more importantly it has enriched my online reading experiences and reignited my interest. I’ve probably also doubled the number of blogs I try and get through in my newsreader every morning. It’s even worked for “Blink”, which I’ve read over the last couple of days. It’s almost like Malcolm Gladwell himself is reading the book to me: a distinctly enjoyable experience! Likewise The Zen of CSS Design – though for some reason this is largely being read to me in Dave’s voice: I think because the CSS Zen Garden is so strongly associated with him in my mind.

What does it mean? I think it means that even geeky hermit humans crave the richness of actual human contact, and that all the other things like email, chat and blogging are just practical methods of attempting to do this when the people you want to communicate with are scattered to all the corners of the earth. It also means don’t be afraid to be human in your online presence: these are the hooks that your readers will catch onto, the same as they’ll remember the way you told a joke, or shook their hand or caught their eye when you met them in the flesh. Just like in real life though, you also can’t fake it: which is why work that doens’t appear to be an actual human speaking from their heart will invariably fail.

Comment by Robin Hastings — Mar 28 2005 @ 9:18 pm

I do too! One thing I noticed after attending an “Internet Librarian” conference last year was that the blogs of the people I met at that conference are far more interesting to me now. Their blogs seem more personal and more interesting to me than those of “faceless” bloggers I haven’t met.

Comment by goodwitch — Mar 28 2005 @ 10:03 pm

You are soooo on target. In fact, the SXSWi experience turned me from “blogs are boring” to “you mean I can actually share brainspace with the amazing people I met at SXSWi all year long!!!”

So, yes, the blogs feel very conversational to me…I hear the voices and see the faces/expressions. And I swear I’m not just playing with Virtual Stan!

Comment by Rob Weychert — Mar 28 2005 @ 10:27 pm

What everyone else said. My blogroll tripled after SxSW, and I do a lot more actual reading now, instead of mostly skimming. The whole meeting in person thing made a huge difference, and I’m having exactly the same phenomenon of hearing the voice of the writer as I read, which makes the reading that much more enjoyable.

Comment by Nick Finck — Mar 28 2005 @ 11:09 pm

Ok, you might hear voices, but every time I read your blog I can’t help but get this visualization of you sitting at the computer with a pint glass attached to your chin. Sorry. It had to be done.

Comment by Kevin Cheng — Mar 29 2005 @ 1:15 am

Yes, I hear the new voices. I find I care more about blogs of people I’ve engaged with, too. Sadly, I don’t think we actually had the opportunity to meet.

That’s the only part that bugs me, is that there’s no way to talk to everyone nor be everywhere. Next year, I shall endeavour to meet even more so I can hear more voices.

Comment by Dustin — Mar 29 2005 @ 1:56 am

and hopefully if you all attend next year, I will hear your voices too.

I can’t help but get caught up in the excitement of what people are sharing now. It’ just neat to think that people can actually meet and collaborate in person.

…And to think I’m telling myself “ooh, ooh, I want to hear voices!”

Comment by Jon Hicks — Mar 29 2005 @ 3:31 am

Absolutely! I especially hear your crazy accent Derek – that odd mixture of Polish and Scottish…

Comment by Dave Marks — Mar 29 2005 @ 6:58 am

I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who’s blog i read, but i find when i read say a letter or email from someone i know, i can hear their voice, so i guess the same principle applies.

I do find with blogs though, I build up a mental image of how I think that person looks. Then I see a photo of them, and often they look nothing like I imagined… but it does then influence your reading, cos you can picture the person and have a better idea of who and what they are.

Comment by Keith — Mar 29 2005 @ 9:24 am

I definitely hear voices too. That is what I love about SXSW. You can finally put a face and personality to the blogs you read. It puts the flesh and bones on the bits and bytes. In fact, I can hear that Canadian accent as I read you posting right now. You know we love y’all down here in Texas. :P

Comment by Jeremy Flint — Mar 30 2005 @ 7:21 am

Voices? I don’t hear voices. But when did all the brits start typing with an English accent?


I second what Keith said. SXSW is great for putting faces and voices with names and words.

Comment by Derek Featherstone — Mar 30 2005 @ 12:30 pm

OK, thanks everyone for the reassurance that I’m not the only one hearing voices, and for the reinforcement that it does make a difference in how you engage online.

And that is what interests me most about this – as a business person, how can I use this “enhanced engagement” to benefit both myself and my clients? I’m ready (I think) to start another blog, that allows me to “speak” directly to my clients and to allow them to speak to me.

Comment by Derek Featherstone — Mar 30 2005 @ 12:42 pm

@Kevin: You are correct – we didn’t get to meet… Was looking forward to it, but we’ll have to wait until next year. Oh, by the way – thanks for letting me use that “Office Space” cartoon as part of the human factors presentation I did last year… Interestingly, many people I met at the presentation already knew of your work at OK/Cancel.

@Keith: Good to hear from you! I’m feeling the love from all y’all… :)

@Dustin: I’m already looking forward to next year too, so hopefully we’ll see you there…

@Nick: No need to apologize for linking to the “evidence”. I’ve come to accept it. By the way – I’ll have to make my way to the West coast – I still owe you lunch!

Comment by Andy Budd — Mar 30 2005 @ 7:15 pm

I don’t hear voices but I do see dead people, if that’s any help :-)

Comment by amyybeth — Apr 30 2005 @ 10:37 am

Ah, the beauty of blogging- you can enter a discussion weeks after it’s finished…

I teach an on-line web design course at the UW which is conducted over a group blog crafted by Third Culture Design. The class has previously been taught entirely on-line… but I’ve made a habit of holding in-class sessions for the first few weeks and once a month or so after that for the sole purpose of seeing faces and hearing voices. The class is largly based on peer reviews and critiques, and I’ve learned that the students respond much better to advice offered by a voice they can “hear” rather than just read.

Not to discredit the communication value of the internet, but I’m still a strong believer in the power of face-to-face.

Comment by amyybeth — Apr 30 2005 @ 10:39 am

Interesting… I linked incorrectly. Ooops. Third Culture

Comment by Anton — Mar 16 2006 @ 10:09 pm

<span style=”voice-family:not-anton;”>
This is not really my voice, you cannot really hear me because I’m talking like Tom Green. So there! HAHAHAHAHA…