When I started Electric Parade, one of my first installments was on Google Wave, the now defunct social collaborative tool. Like Wave, my installment floundered, never quite took the shape I envisioned; eventually, I killed it off in favor of iPads and such. But the technology Google offered generated as much intrigue as it did confusion. Google should take some of the blame for the latter; it expected the masses to beg for invites to a tool no one knew how—or why—to use. But I’m not the masses, so I acquired my invite via a bit of beggary and, once I logged in, I didn’t know where to start. I thought about sending a Wave to the friend who blessed me with the invite—but I figured I might as well use Google Talk or the telephone to reach out.
Why I wanted to write about Wave in the first place? Well, upon viewing Google’s demo on Youtube, its potential application for writers became apparent. A wave, to me, was the spawn of an instant messenger and email—then it took steroids upon birth. Messaging was in real time, in the presence of those who participated in the wave—they could see you type the beginnings of a snarky remark and yes, they could see you delete it quickly. Other users could alter your text, in real time, as well. Wave had far more going on than that, but the example above is the essence of its social collaboration.
My fiancee was a member of a writing workshop, cobbled together for and by her fellow grad school alums. They used a customary tool to do this: email. Back and forth, Word documents zoomed through the ether, waiting for the recipient to butcher the poem with markups and footnotes. As an observer, email made sense to me; email provides people a moment of pause or, rather, an opportunity to get to the message when time allotted. While Google may have underestimated people’s desire to take a little time and consider both the messages and their responses to it, a “think before you send”Â sensibility, Wave was still attractive to me, as though it was designed specifically for the workshop model.
Wave allowed a user to send a message to another person, just like an email. But if they were both signed on, or six other people were invited to the fun, the message becomes a type of chat room—or instant messenger—I don’t know. Anyway, imagine being the lucky individual who submits his poem for critique. You send it in a wave. Five of your compatriots log in and decide that now would be a good time to do the workshop, to get it out of the way before Mad Men or Monday Night Football starts. You sit there, watching your carefully crafted poem get hacked to pieces in real time; watching someone break into your car—with your girlfriend smiling in the passenger seat—would be less stressful (maybe).
Silliness aside, this is why I didn’t write about Wave. I don’t think people are intentionally cruel—but I do think that, in lieu of thick skins, writers sometimes opt to develop sword-sharp tongues. Granted, workshops are supposed to foster a warm, inviting environment. But you know as well as I do that things get out of hand—quickly—on the Internet. People become brazen behind the buffers of modems, monitors and usernames. Combine this reality with real-time “critiques”Â of a creative work, especially amongst a breed of competitive people—artists—who aren’t lauded for well-rounded social skills, and I imagine the warm workshop becoming a cage match for snark-ass wordsmiths playing an unhealthy game of oneupmanship.
Call it hyperbole, if you like. But the Internet does inherently encourage verbal exchanges that would rarely occur in a face-to-face conversation, in part because, in person, you’re able to gauge the other person. No emoticons, just simple fist-clenching, teeth-grinding anger; no one really wants to get punched in the face, particularly over a poem. So sure, we writers might consider ourselves a civilized bunch, adept at recombining nouns, verbs and adjectives into something powerful, emotional, provocative. But we’re also competitive; we’re human. A workshop conducted with email seems prudent because, if you’re smart, or not a troublemaker, you’ll wipe out the sarcasm before sending back the critique.
In its announcement to end the Wave project, Google noted that the program’s source code is open for use. Developers will raid the code and, perhaps, build on what Google started, so I fully expect to see a Wave-like platform, with improvements and adjustments, in the future. I still hope that the technology will find its way into the hearts and minds of writers who might find email too limited. Yes, snarkiness is abound in online communication, but the ability to work on a piece of text, in real time, with multiple people, seems, to me, too good to ignore. That’s why I did decide to finally write about Wave. To at least start the conversation.