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.)