These are some preliminary ideas fleeting through my mind when I look at how human have conversations. I’m sure there are many ways to draw similarities in two quite different areas and this is just one way of seeing it.
Conversation and computer networking
Conversation etiquette is like TCP handshaking. You don’t just launch into a conversation topic. You need to establish it by following the protocol. You start with “Hi, how are you”, which is equivalent to sending a SYN request. You wait for the SYN-ACK response “I’m good thanks”, before diving into a conversation.
With new network connections, the next step is establishing the protocols which both of you can use. In computer networking, this could mean HTTP, FTP, etc. In real world, this could be finding a common topic to talk about. For example, “what’s your favourite sports?”, “Oh I like to play badminton”, which would be something like “Do you accept HTTP requests?”, “Yes I do”. Without these protocols, the other party might not be able to decipher the gibberish you say. He or she may simply not bother trying to decipher and appear bored.
A conversation is like a ball game
A conversation is like a ball game. You start a conversation – that’s your serve. The other party replies and expands on the topic – that’s the return volley. You spice up the conversation with jokes, sarcasm, witty wordplay – that’s executing moves like smashes and drop shots. You bounce it back and forth until one or the other of you misses the volley – that’s the end of the conversation. Then, either you start a conversation – a new serve – or you don’t. Maybe your partner will start one instead.
Taking the analogy further, at any point the ball is in someone’s court. Possessing the ball is to take initiative and giving the ball to your partner is a friendly gesture and can also be a defensive play. For example, when things go sour, instead of trying to remedy it with an aggressive play, it might be better to leave the ball in your partner’s court and let him or her decide how to play it.
Multi-tasking and context switching
There are several types of conversation. There is the brief hi bye greetings, which takes up only a short amount of time. There are also the long deep conversations which take longer time. Choosing the right medium and time for such conversations is vital to having a meaningful and successful one.
In computer memory allocation, programs want to find contiguous memory for the program to run. A set of memory that a computer process is using is known as its working set. If the entire working set is in memory, the process will run. If the available memory is too small to hold the entire working set, the process will cause faults and will run slowly. This situation is known as thrashing. This happens often when there are multiple programs running at the same time.
Human conversations have different commitment requirements – size of working memory set. If one tries to start a deep discussion – large working memory set – when the other party does not have the time (enough memory) to commit to, then the conversation is going to “thrash”. Considering how some people, and myself, use Facebook, it is extremely difficult to have any deep discussion using Facebook messenger. A more common type of conversation are those to catch up.