Ping Me

a very small message


A young friend once asked on Facebook what it means to “ping” someone. She said that, of late, many people over the age of 35 were asking her to do so. To this I replied that her friends were old nerds and posted the link to a Wikipedia article without any further explanation. It was a curt response in which I came off as an insulting jackass.

Some of her friends thought I was rude and said so. One disagreed with me, saying that pinging is the same as IM’ing. That it’s a term from the dial-up days and that traders use it too.

Rather than explain myself further there, I started to unpack the whole concept.

First, it’s not a terrible thing to be old and a nerd. If you remember the ping utility through firsthand experience, you have lived some old school internet history. Massive cool points to you.

Second, it’s possible that, for most people pinging is IM’ing. For these folks to ping someone is simply to speak to them by text or IM, through a device. Communication received not through speech. They don’t see it as particularly nerdy. Everyone does it.

But ping, as a word, has a whole other frame of reference that colors the feeling, flavor, and intention of the request when I make it.

Here’s what I came up with when I was done unpacking, an essay on what ping means to me.

Image from Wikimedia Commons, by Gerard.burner

What Ping Means To Me

Back in the day, if you wanted to send something from one machine (computer) to another, you needed to confirm that there was a live, clear connection and that the other machine was able to receive what you wanted to send. It would be a shame, a waste, to send it all only to have it be lost because you did not check first. Perhaps a tragedy.

Even now, when programs will automatically resend data until it is delivered, there are times when you need to figure out whether a message can get through and how long it will take. For this, there is ping.

Ping is a network tool that sends the smallest message from one machine to another. It asks, “Hey, are you there?”, waits for a given amount of time for an answer, and then let’s you know. With a positive response, you have a level of confidence that your next message will get through and be safely received. You know that there is a connection.

Ping acknowledges that in communication the attention and receptivity of the receiver is essential. That listening matters and is an active part of the equation. That responses matter. That this shared agreement matters. That communication requires an active channel in both directions.

It is pragmatic. It is courteous.

Sometimes people get mad at me for not knowing something because they sent it to me by text or email or chat. In turn, sometimes I get mad at people for the same. But the thing is, we cannot assume that everyone on the planet lives their lives waiting to hear from us. Sometimes they are. Especially now that so many of us carry networked devices with us. But carrying a device doesn’t mean that the other person is or should be glued to it. They might be eating a strawberry or making love or watching a movie. They might be working or taking a much needed nap or savoring a moment of silence. They might be talking to other people, face to face.

Ping them. Make sure that they are there and can pay attention. Make sure that they are in a state where they are receptive to communication and can respond. Establish that agreement and then proceed.

This post was adapted and republished with permission from Things to Do.