March 12, 2016 § 2 Comments
This is what we have at our disposal when we engage in a real-world conversation.
The deluxe box of sixty-four colors.
The basics are there: red, yellow, blue. But so are the nuanced in-betweens.
The basic colors are the words we speak.
The in-betweens used to shade the spoken words include body language, gesture, tone of voice, hesitations, setting, context.
We have words, just words with an occasional cartoon bubble parodying a facial expression.
Want to see the eight crayon version of real life?
Meet Mr. Oblivious.
You know the guy, the one who stands too close, over-shares, won’t shut up.
He makes you uncomfortable and you tell him so–but not in so many words. Can’t this guy read body language?
You retreat. He follows, blistering you with a litany of things you don’t give a flip about, like what he ate for breakfast, complete with photos, like you’ve never seen French toast. How did he miss the eye roll?
In the virtual world it is easy to become that guy, standing too close, inflicting inflated opinions, sharing what we would not mention in a face-to-face encounter.
Absent physical signals we are Trump-like in our honesty, quick to misunderstand. And the words fly and buzz and gather around us like a cloud of gnats.
As a fiction writer I have great faith in words, but fiction operates by reproducing life as closely as possible. All the signals are there:
“Of course I love you,” he said, staring over her shoulder.
In this sentence information is coming from two sources: the line of dialogue and the gesture. You trusted the physical cue over the spoken words, right?
Blipped as a text message all that would remain would be the statement, simple, reassuring and wrong.
Add to the narrow rainbow we draw from in virtual communication the fact that often the recipient of our words is not someone in particular, but just anyone who happens to see a post as they run through the vast virtual landscape.
This is not the put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is communication of real life where interactions have immediate, often lasting consequences.
In the ether we say things without thinking. The messages come and they come and they come causing brief tempests but little lasting meaning.
Of course there are pluses to virtual communication. Individually these quick taps on the shoulder can be informative, entertaining, and the quickest way ever invented for organizing large numbers of people.
Perhaps the virtual world is the world-without-end we’ve always imagined. Seductive, it draws us in and holds us. But it is also vast and impersonal.
My hope is that we will mature and evolve along with the internet, learning to draw on its many assets, while recognizing how limited it is.
Don’t abandon that box of sixty-four. It is more laborious to use, less convenient, more potent, easier to mess up with, but our humanity lies in finding the time and the courage to use those in-between colors.