Autistic Spectrum Digest (Autism) Issue 22, September 2015 - Page 58

Casual relationships with colleagues and acquaintances are usually superficial; the stakes of the water cooler discussions are low, so people are more inclined to forgive missteps. However, friendship is another matter, and for most of my life, I have hardly had any friends, unless you use Facebook's definition of the term. Awkwardness is generally tolerated, but rarely sought after. It's not "cool". Most of those issues arise because you don't have a way of knowing that the person in front of you is different. At least Spock had his pointed ears to signal that he wasn't human. His acceptance by the crew of the Enterprise was in large part due to the relationships he was able to develop with his shipmates. Those relationships would arguably not have been possible if they had not known how he was different. Computer-mediated communication Let me go back to that conceptual model of face-to-face communication. Now imagine how this model changes if you're communicating online, by email, on wiki, or on IRC. All those communication channels, that Wikimedians are all too familiar with, are based on text, and most of them are asynchronous. For many neurotypicals, these are frustrating modes of communication, because they're losing most of their usual nonverbal signals like tone, facial expressions, and body language. However, this model of computer-mediated communication is much closer to the communication model of autists like me. There is no nonverbal communication to decrypt; less interaction and social anxiety; and usually, no unfamiliar environment either. There are much fewer signals, and those that remain are just words; their meaning still varies, but it's much more codified and reliable than nonverbal signals. What there is online, instead, is plenty of time, time that we can use to collect our thoughts and formulate a carefully crafted answer. Whereas voice is synchronous and mostly irreversible, text can be edited, crafted, deleted, reworded, or rewritten until it's exactly what we want it to be; then we can send it. This is true of asynchronous channels like email and wikis, but it also extends to semi-synchronous tools like instant messaging or IRC. It's not all rainbows and unicorns, though. For example, autists like me are still very much clueless about politics and reading between the lines. We tend to be radically honest, which doesn't fly very well, whether online or offline. Autists are also more susceptible to trolling, and may not always realize that the way people act online isn't the same as the way they act in the physical world. The Internet medium tends to desensitize people, and autists might emulate behavior that isn't actually acceptable, regardless of the venue. 58