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Tone in public dialogue

If the actual words we use account for around 7% of our meaning, then clearly context’s important for grasping that fully: body language, tone of voice, and other factors all playing their part in interpersonal communication.

The idea of sharing thoughts so others can come to understand, relate themselves to us, and learn from our existence is fascinating. On a personal as much as a social level we are making things more commonly known, feeding into our community from the wealth of our experiences and reshaping society through that mutual journey of knowledge (see Notes One).

Evidently there are many modern challenges on this front, as we struggle in our response to the connections and insight technology affords us (Notes Two). And, given those statistics around the weight of words compared with their context, it seems tech might inevitably create an echo chamber of sorts where our psyche and the interface itself may influence things far more than we might realise.

How does this then affect collective conversation about things that matter? With all we can now become aware of, the enduring public nature of the internet, and how poorly intentions might carry through the veil of tech, where does this leave us in addressing our concerns?

Because surely tone matters, the nuance of social meaning wrapping our words as we seek to impart them to others? We communicate human to human – that’s the level we’re trying to reach common understanding – and, as humans, so much is carried through personal and social language. It’s not just our words; it’s what they mean to us and what we mean through them (Notes Three).

In practice then, misunderstanding seems likely, as perhaps does wilful ambiguity and plausible deniability: once context is stripped from our words, we’re in a grey area where meaning’s much more up for grabs. However, we do still need the ability to convey our intended meaning; making technology a slightly strange tool for communication.

So, if our important conversations happen via tech, how does that work out? Do we abandon the added meaning of tone and context, pouring everything into the words themselves (and, what would be lost if we did)? Do we turn ourselves over to endless conflicts over meaning, nestled as it may be in our psychological makeup and social reality? Do we hold people to absolute standards while offering no path to reach them?

Communication has surely never been that easy: human nature; differing opinions and experiences; the machinations of the mind; ways we seek to relate to others, and how that makes us feel within ourselves. Finding common ground and accepting another way of seeing things suddenly sounds almost indescribably difficult.

And the interpersonal context that stands slightly apart from our words must matter; it’s how we stand in relation to others and seek to communicate our message. It might be flawed, imperfect, and often in need of correction, but it’s also deeply human and presumably the essence of what we’re hopefully trying to achieve?

Notes and References:

Note 1: “People Skills”
Note 1: Communicating divergent experiences
Note 1: Podcasts as models of transformation
Note 2: People wanting change
Note 2: Where’s the right place to talk?
Note 2: The web and the wider world
Note 3: Apparent difficulty in finding a voice
Note 3: We may as well laugh
Note 3: Anger as a voice

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