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Sep 29 2009

The human condition

(Note from Jason: Jodi has an account here, and once in a while is inspired to write guest posts, but rarely gets them to the point where she’s comfortable publishing them. Tonight, she finished one. Hooray!)

I’ve been told that I should write; this is why I can’t.

When arguing in online debates, or just commenting on blogs, the message is too difficult to get out, simply because of the human condition. I see it in comments all the time and it intrigues me to no end. Usually it devolves into repetition — people can’t figure out any other possible way to get their message out there, so they just repeat the same thing, worded slightly differently. I do it all the time. I sit and think and type and delete and re-word until I get a headache from trying to find the perfect wording; some wording that surely, surely the other party must understand. It doesn’t even matter if they ever agree with the argument that I’m making, I’m just sure that I MUST have gotten my point across, must have gotten my message out there in plain view.

But that is rarely how it works. This is usually what keeps me from writing long comments or blog posts of my own. The message. I get part way through and I stop because I know that no matter what I say, no matter how eloquent my language, how precisely chosen my words, it wont matter one bit. A thousand different people will read my words and interpret a thousand different messages from it. Even those who know me well, who know my mannerisms and the way I speak, will get it wrong, at least somewhat. I would take a chance and suggest that even internet friends that agree often probably make incorrect assumptions about the other persons message at least 50% of the time.

You can’t think another person’s thoughts, you can’t be in their heads. All this is is just text to you, I can say I’m raving mad but it wont make you mad unless there is something in this wall of text that triggers an emotional response in your own brain. Trying to get my message across the internet, the pure, original message that I intended with my first thought, is near impossible. Once I type these words and hit send it’s entirely up to you.

Not that it’s a lot easier in person though, body language screws up a lot too.

Communication is highly inefficient.

11 comments

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  1. 1
    Dan J

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who writes that way. I do manage to get out a few posts and comments now and again, but the constant rewriting and overanalysis is often overwhelming.

    · Some people, while understanding your intention, simply will not care.
    · Some people, misunderstanding your intention, still will not care.
    · Some people, understanding your intention and agreeing with you, do care.
    · Some people, understanding your intention and disagreeing with you, do care, and often care enough to argue with you about it.
    · Some people, misunderstanding your intention, but agreeing with what they thought you meant, will care.
    · Some people, misunderstanding your intention and disagreeing with what they thought you meant, will care enough to argue vehemently for something that has nothing at all to do with what you wrote.
    · Some people will be completely out of their depth, won’t understand a thing, and won’t care.
    · Some people will be completely out of their depth, won’t understand a thing, but will ask questions and research it on their own.

    There are a few other permutations, but you get the idea. Don’t you? Of the many different types of people who might read what you post, it really is worth it if you can reach at least a couple of them.

    I’ve often thought about using audio to overcome some of the limitations of the simple text. Nuances of inflection can change the perceived intention tremendously. I draw the line at video though. I don’t mind how I sound, but I don’t find myself photogenic enough for my own videos.

  2. 2
    Stephanie Z

    Well, I could be wrong, but that seemed pretty straightforward to me. I agree that it’s impossible to convey exactly what we’re thinking, but that’s largely because we don’t really think in words. Some, yes, but we also think in sensations that, even if we describe them perfectly (which we can’t), are missing something because they don’t happen in the same simultaneous tumble in which they happen in our heads. Plus connections and connotations that are different for all of us.

    So, yes, a highly iterative, inefficient process with lots of what could be called risks, except for the fact that they’re more or less inevitable.

    But it’s fun, too.

    (And yay, Jodi!)

  3. 3
    sinned34

    So… what are you saying, Jodi?

  4. 4
    Jason Thibeault

    FYI, Zdenny posted here. I gave Jodi the option to unmoderate him on it; she said she wasn’t interested.

  5. 5
    Mike Haubrich, FCD

    There’s a discipline of Sociology called “Symbolic Interactionism” that deals with this. We don’t really think in words, words are part of the panoply of symbols that we use to interact with our environment; but considering that the perspectives that individuals have are built on swarms of factors and experiences that necessarily different from almost everybody else’s. Miscommunication happens no matter how hard you try to be precise.

    Taking a class on this at Moorhead State Minnesota way back in 1982 really help me relax a bit about being misunderstood.

  6. 6
    Jason Thibeault

    Thanks for the comments everyone!

    Dan, I’m glad I’m not the only one with these thoughts. I’ve also thought about audio too, but I think I might be too nervous and scripting wouldn’t work, although editing the sound file after might.

    Stephanie, I agree that it is fun and worth the risk, it just overwhelms me sometimes. Also it’s highly interesting and amusing to me, for example, the multiple levels of certainty that now exist between you and I. You feel that my post was straightforward and that you got the message, but I myself am only assuming that was what your message was in your post, and on it will continue, with everything, everywhere.

    Hi sinned :) I dunno, what do you think? Purple monkey dishwasher?

    Mike, that sounds like a great course! I wonder if we have something similar in our Sociology courses here at Acadia. I’ll have to look into it.

    As for zdenny, he can stay in his holding pen thanks.

  7. 7
    Mike Haubrich, FCD

    I loved it, Jodi. Science changed my life!

  8. 8
    Anonymous

    dammit, sinned34 beat me to it :)

  9. 9
    Clifton

    Oops, that anonymous one was me

  10. 10
    sinned34

    Actually Jodi, I was thinking “the cheese is mouldy in the refrigerator…”

  11. 11
    Jason Thibeault

    The celery stalks at midnight, Sinned.

    Dan forgets a category of people — people who are completely out of their depth, don’t understand a thing, think they do, and have fairly large platforms on which to spout off about what they think they know. I call them (us) bloggers.

    There’s also people who claim to understand everything, see the evidence around them, are convinced this evidence is misdirection, and believe in the inerrancy of their foundational texts. They’re called evangelicals or fundamentalists.

    There’s people who are both at the same time, but they’re just black holes of stupidity and aren’t worth mentioning (more than they’ve already been mentioned in this thread).

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