Come, Join the Conversation

       In language intonation refers to the rise and fall of a speaker’s voice in the course  of a sentence or group of thoughts. In English, there are at least four identified tones. For instance, I can say “Nice to meet you,” and depending on the intonation of my voice it can come across as flirtatious, questioning, matter of fact, nonchalant or sarcastic.

Humans are used to their own speech patterns within the culture they live.  This is good because it helps us interpret the thoughts and ideas people are trying to convey. However it poses a problem cross-culturally. Even if someone from Japan speaks English fairly well, he or she might not be clear on the meaning of conversation and intentions of others if he or she is not familiar with American English intonation patters and vice-versa.  Another cross-cultural example is the differences in pitch sequences when asking a question. For instance in English a question is ended with a higher pitch than the rest of the sentence. In Russian the highest pitch falls elsewhere and the sentence ends with lower one. This can be confusing to people learning Russian, as a question from a native speaker may sound come across as a rude command.

In the real world we can hear each other’s voices. We can interpret inflection, pitch and speech patterns. We usually know when someone is angry or stressed or happy or sad. We can see facial expressions and read body language. We can more accurately read one another if we are familiar with each other, understand where each other is coming from, and understand the culture in which we are interacting.

Online forums often present us with a very new environment in which we are often interacting with people we don’t know. We sometimes project tone into the comments of others based on our own experiences.

Like most people I was drawn to the Bloggernacle, and especially to By Common Consent because of the discussions being had. In general, I don’t feel very connected to people on the internet. In some ways it would be better for me if all the comments were merely numbered rather than all the baggage that comes with preconceived labels and notions of what a commenter is going to say from what he or she has said in the past.  By the time I see someone’s moniker, I may have already unfairly built a case of how I will respond to them based on past conversations.  Sometimes it’s deserved. Years of interaction with some people teaches you that no understanding will ever come between some points of view.

However sometimes snap judgments make me miss the mark, and I’ve certainly felt misread time and time again. Being misread is exasperating.  Sometimes commenters (myself included, or maybe especially me) are too lazy or short on time to write more clearly what they mean. Whereas in person an ongoing conversation has more give and take and head nodding that leads to understanding. Sometimes it’s easy to forget in the midst of a discussion that pivots around ideas that there are other living, breathing people on the other ends of the interwebs. We are emotional creatures, and sometimes don’t realize when our responses are emotion driven.

While being on the blogs enough to build a comfortable repertoire and join the community can be a good thing, the blogging community will always have its limits.  New participants should know that some of us do know each other and are familiar with each other’s sarcasm and sometimes share inside jokes. I’m sure this makes lots of people feel out of the loop. Don’t be too intimidated, but recognize that you might not understand the dynamic between fellow bloggers.

Good things happen here. I hope new readers and contributing commenters will continue to join us in our exploration of faith. We can all give each other a break once-in-awhile and find being tone deaf in a blogging world at times can be a good thing. So come and sup with me at the Bloggernacle table, but go read this first. (Really, go read it.)


  1. Ah I love the idea of English tones! I can say no 9 different ways to mean different things. Helping foreigners learn English tones/accent is actually one of my big hobbies.

    Being new here, I do agree and acknowledge that I frequently have no idea what people are talking about in the comments.

  2. Four years later I’m still wondering how my name got dragged into comment #53 on that last linked post. I chalk it up to Steve Evans being intimidated by me at some point. Or many points. Or constantly.

  3. Ardis, the only thing I find intimidating about you is your matchless grace, wit, and charm.

  4. Thanks for this, mmiles! I remember when I first started lurking at BCC and thinking it was pretty intimidating to join in the comments. Now it’s easy to forget how it feels for a newcomer to the site. I know I can really improve in how I treat people here, and in those political threads on my friends’ Facebook walls—O that I could have a setting on FB that would ban myself from participating in those!

  5. Cynthia,
    Once I was auditioning for a play and as part of the audition they asked me to act a part in different scenes without lines, instead using the word No. It was all intonation and body language.

  6. MikeInWeHo says:

    This is very nice. Thanks, mmiles. I think my online blogging friends (especially people I’ve encountered here at BCC) are the modern equivalent of pen-pals. These relationships, whatever they are, mean a lot to me.

  7. The sort of post that should be stapled to the top of the site so people would see it every day…

  8. Hear hear! I was terrified the first time I hit “post comment” here. This is a timely and beautiful reminder to all of us of the human at the other end of the comments- and the permas. Thanks mmiles.

    And yes, MikeInWeHo- I agree. This community has created some of the best friends of my life, and they now inhabit the real time, and not just my computer.

  9. I’m a couple year old reader and occasional timid commentor. Thanks for the general welcome. I still feel like a new kid at lunch not sure if sitting down at here was a good idea or not, but I find the conversation at your table is sometimes just what I needed.

  10. Dovie,
    If you offer Steve Evans your chocolate milk, he’ll be your BFF and save you a seat at the table every day.

  11. I still remember the time I said that one really dumb thing. You never forget those. Like mmiles implied (?), neither does anyone else. And like Steve Evans once said, “it’s-a-work-in-progress.” Everyone is, I guess.

    But there’s so much good thought that happens here that I think my commenting has matured somewhat. Of course, the rapid-release comments never go good. If I had one suggestion for newbies, it would be to re-read every message twice before clicking “burn into e-ternitiy.” There’s always a lurker standing by to correct you.

  12. Ooooo now I want to know what Josh B’s “really dumb thing” was.

  13. Josh B.
    I have lots of regrets that will live forever in the interwebs. I remember lots of them. But I don’t remember other peoples. Mostly I remember people’s commenting patterns. So no worries.

    It feels like you’re a regular in the neighborhood.

    We all like you too.

    I’m glad you spoke up. Come and join us more.

  14. Mr.Xingfu,
    I’m glad you spoke up! Join us more often.

    To me if feels like you’re a regular in the neighborhood.

    Mostly I remember patterns people get into when commenting, not specific comments. And FWIW, I loathe the fact that all my blogging sins are forever roaming the interwebs. It has it’s own Dante’s Inferno to it.

    We all like you too.

  15. Ardis,
    It’s just one of those mysteries.

  16. Cynthia,
    Ironically, that was a bad comment. I completely reiterated some other guy’s thought. Note to world: read everything before commenting.

  17. Mommie Dearest says:

    I think I have permanent lurker status. I’ve posted my unfiltered opinions before and been called to repentance, so I always check and edit before I hit the button. Often I write on my clipboard/TextEdit, but that can lead to me babbling and/or sounding like a pompous ass. I like a brief commenter who can make their very cogent points in 3 sentences or less. I’m already over my limit. Too bad.

    I feel very positive and friendly toward the BCC community, and I accept our limits as online friends and acquaintances. I think it’s wonderful that some of the things we won’t discuss in real life get aired (even a little) here. I’ve benefitted immensely from lurking, reading, and learning. I do have a policy I adopted since I started meeting people online: At the other end of those typed words is a living, breathing, feeling person. Sometimes they act like a jerk, and sometimes they show you something you’d never otherwise give a second thought to.

  18. Mommie Dearest, I have always really appreciated your comments on my Religious Art posts.

    mmiles, this is a really great post and thank you for linking to John C.’s as well. I had not previously read it. Most of the blogs I read have similar issues. Having comments which are ignored is just part of the experience of blogging and is, I think, actually a good thing some of time.

  19. I probably lurk too much, but I do enjoy the conversation, most of the time. I often don’t post because of this very issue. Mmiles, this is a very timely post, thank you.

  20. Left Field says:

    I once spent a month in Belfast? While there, I realized that in the Irish dialect of English, pitch goes up at the end of every sentence? So it sounds like the Irish are always asking questions? I had to learn to resist answering questions that weren’t asked?

  21. Steve Evans says:

    #9 is completely true. I LOVE chocolate milk.

  22. They serve chocolate milk here!?!? Two years and you think someone would tell me before now.

  23. MikeInWeHo says:

    The school cafeteria analogy is apt, that’s for sure. Here we are now! (I’ll leave it to others to decide who’s who…..)

  24. It’s not just intonation and misunderstanding. Every community has manners, social mores, and “political correctness”, and if you jump right in without learning what those are, you will likely get hammered once in a while until you figure them out.

  25. It’s no surprise joining the conversation at By Common Consent, a Mormon blog, is a lot like joining the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a Mormon church. You are invited to join and then mostly ignored. Which shouldn’t matter if you have an abiding testimony of gst.

  26. Steve Evans says:

    Mat – that’s a money comment right there.

  27. mmiles–thanks for this. It’s really helpful for me to be reminded, and ordered to go back and reread JohnC’s post, too. I started blogging almost at the very beginning of the bloggernacle, when it really was just a conversation between a few friends, and I forget that there are people who read and don’t comment, or people who worry about making that first comment, because I just barged right in, back when a new name was never ignored because there were only 10 of us. It’s actually really helpful for me to indulge my weird ability to forget that there’s an audience, because otherwise I’d be far too scared to ever post anything.

    But, alas, I’m not nearly scared enough about commenting. It’s almost impossible for me to not dive into a conversation, and I’m sure that sometimes I am tremendously rude. I grew up in a family where interrupting, talking fast, disagreeing vehemently, and criticizing passionately were a way of showing that you cared, that you valued the other person’s opinion enough to really engage it vigorously. The dinner table at my house was not unlike snippets I’ve seen from debates in the House of Commons (with more fart jokes). It took me a long time to realize in real life that many people would not receive “that is a completely unsupportable hypothesis!” or “it is so easy to empirically demonstrate that your idea is ridiculous!” as tokens of affection. Online, it’s even harder–nobody knows, the way my brothers did, that sometimes that gleefully cutting comment is evidence more of my perverse pleasure in what I take to be a particularly elegant or witty insult than it is reflective of the degree of disdain I really feel for someone else’s comment. And _especially_ not for the commenter him- or herself–I learned a really weird degree of detachment in my family; it was perfectly possible to say (sincerely) in one breath “that’s a really stupid idea. Pass the salt, please. Oh, and great job in the track meet today.”

    I indulge in this ridiculously long autobiography partly by way of apology to people who I’ve insulted or offended unintentionally (or, more truthfully, perhaps, people I’ve insulted or offended _more_ than I intended to insult or offend), and also partly to suggest that it’s useful to take stock of what might influence your blogging style, shade your communication in ways that have long since become unconscious to you but aren’t necessarily common to everyone.

  28. Kristine,

    Apology accepted. I will now “come back” to the bloggernacle.

  29. Great! Pass the salt, please.

  30. Usually when I’m too lazy or short on time to write more clearly what I mean, I just don’t comment. Or post. It’s my throwing-the-baby-out-with-the-bathwater approach to blogging. It’s not the most fruitful approach, as you can see.

  31. Great post! While I’m never really certain where I “fit” in with the online community, I sure appreciate knowing ya’ll are out there and love hearing your perspectives.

  32. Sometimes I feel like a creepy weirdo eaves dropping on yall’s conversations. I suppose I could participate more . . . thanks for the invite.

  33. Sometimes I feel so insecure that just about anything I say causes me to cringe and wish I’d kept my mouth shut. So this is just to let you all know that I often need immediate effusive praise on every word to proceed out of my fingers just to feel barely adequate. Thanks for your cooperation. ;)

  34. Tatiana that was a great comment!

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