Etched In Tone

As modern society has become more and more reliant on the written word as a means of primary communication (e.g. text messaging, e-mail, online news, and this blog), we have, out of necessity, altered our expectations for these media.

Don’t worry; this isn’t another post on how 160-character limits have destroyed the art of writing, or a nostalgic complaint about how no one talks on the phone anymore.

This post is a dire warning that your future, and the future of all mankind, is fraught with dangerous danger!!

More specifically, it’s about the risks inherent in monotony.

I use “monotony” literally, as in one (mono) tone.

I have a personal history of being misunderstood over written communication, where an intended emotionless, matter-of-fact response has been received as antagonistic, or intended sarcasm is picked up as earnest foolishness.

This blog is no exception.  People think I come off as a jerk when my intended voice is a placid, inviting, smooth-jazz baritone.*  But in person, the actual sound of my voice supplements the words themselves, offering clues to their meaning.

I imagine that as time goes on, and short, written communication continues to replace other social interactions (as evident from this Pew report), humans are going to have to adapt.  I wonder if, a couple of decades from now, we will naturally become more adept at identifying subtle textual clues and intention more accurately.  I hope so, because I don’t think anyone’s learning how to write better.

Case in point: even about (just under) 2000 years ago, we have lines of Biblical text which I, personally, am not certain whether the speaker intended as a joke:

“Are not two sparrows sold for a cent?  And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31 NASB)

The first few lines are an existential statement regarding the nature of G-d, and how He is directly involved even in the death of something so insignificant that you can buy two for a penny.  And then He basically says, “But don’t worry, you’re worth more than a number of these extremely insignificant creatures put together.”  One can easily imagine a slight lilt in the Messiah’s voice as He says the word “many” (or whatever the Aramaic word was), cracking a smile to the laughter of His disciples before continuing on to more serious matters.  Alternatively, maybe He gave a deadpan delivery, and the disciples started giving each other uneasy looks.  The point is, we don’t know.

But maybe–just maybe–the new skills our species develops in reading tone and intention will provide brand new insight into even ancient text.  If we don’t develop those skills, however, I think that’s pretty much the end of civility as we understand it.

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but human beings love to get offended.  These days, publicly posting “I had the best pancakes for breakfast!” somehow results in anger and internet trolling.  If you give people an opportunity to take what you’ve said the wrong way, people will exploit it to the point that you will be defined by a belief or opinion you never had in the first place.  Perhaps it’s best to simply lead a quiet and complacent life, trying as hard as possible not to make waves.

Or maybe I’m being sarcastic.

-Matt

*Just kidding.  I really am a jerk.
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