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Embracing the Latency: The Virtual Choir and Global Communication

12/25/2013 10:43 am ET | Updated Feb 24, 2014

Click here to watch the TEDTalk that inspired this post.

In his "Virtual Choir" TED talk, which I was fortunate enough to see in person, composer and conductor Eric Whitacre describes the impetus for his project: a quiet clearing in the woods and the thunderstorm that broke over it suddenly, beautifully. I think this is a perfect metaphor, in fact, for what's been going on in terms of global communication in the last one hundred years.

Like a group of animals living in the same forest clearing, our great grandparents and our great-great grandparents lived their daily lives in substantial contact with a small number of people. There wasn't a lot of choice, after all, with communication from outside their circle coming by post, which could take days or months to arrive. But with the advent of telephones, and email, and Skype -- the gathering and downpour of a thunderstorm of ways to communicate -- our lives became more connected, noisier, not just influenced by what we hear in our immediate vicinity, but also influenced by what we hear from far away, sometimes from across the globe.

Personally, my Facebook and Twitter news feeds represent a confluence of thoughts and influence from friends around the country and the world. This impacts my own understanding of everything from current events ("how will this impact Friend X in Italy?") to pop culture ("Friend Y in Hong Kong would love this video.") In other words, it takes me outside myself and my own perception of the world to think more reflexively about other people, places and perspectives.

Our lives became more connected, noisier, not just influenced by what we hear in our immediate vicinity, but also influenced by what we hear from far away, sometimes from across the globe. -- Laura Cococcia

This is why, I think, I was struck not just by the beautiful genius of the idea of a choir comprised of singers from all over the world -- although at this time of year what could be a lovelier symbol of peace -- but by what Whitacre called "embracing the latency." Explaining that there is a small time delay between singers on Skype, he said, "I've adapted Cloudburst so that it embraces the latency and that the performers sing into the latency instead of trying to be exactly together."

"Singing into the latency," if you will, is what we have to do, and can do, today, in a world where we have the option to communicate outside our immediate circles. We should adjust ourselves to accept the experiences and thoughts of other people who come from far away, either intellectually or physically or both. This is a way to get the most out of living in the 21st century, to wrest the widest breadth of understanding and knowledge from our day to day.

And the greatest news of all is that we don't even have to travel to Italy or Hong Kong to have friends in those places. We can collaborate with or talk to or make music with people from all around the world thanks to email, and Skype, and phones. I sometimes imagine how much faster human culture would have progressed if genius inventors and artists from ages past could have called each other up to discuss specific projects.

Today, they do. And that's embracing the latency: spanning, in your mind, the distance between what someone else thinks, and responding through an adjustment of what you accept to be true yourself.

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