Friday, July 27, 2012

Language and Relationships

In my final day of a course I've been teaching in Written Communication, I took the opportunity to go on a little soap box about the nature of communication in general.

I had a small realization about what it means to really engage with another human being--and how little we actually seem to be doing that.  I like to explain "rhetoric" to my students as effective communication.  Effective is, of course, the key word.  To my mind, communication by definition means that something--some information or idea--is being exchanged with another person.

Now, come with me for a moment as we explore the "communication" that makes up the vast majority of web content (I'd say all life-content, but that might be going too far).  We have names for most of this--spamming, flaming, trolling--that most intelligent people understand you don't listen to.  Adversarial politics gets into this same kind of trouble.  Pop-up ads and the majority of advertising we see today do as well.  We could say that this is all communication that is meant to be ignored unless for some reason it applies to you, and you're lucky enough to have it catch your ear, eye, or both.

I say that's a misapplication of the word "communication."

When people really get going on comment boards, or editorial pages, do you know what I think it is?

I have to believe that comment-trolls realize that they're not going to change anyone's minds.  They're not actually influencing the debate.  When that interaction ceases, you're no longer communicating--not just not effectively communicating, but rather not communicating at all, because you're not really in relationship with another person or group.  And when that becomes your milieu, you can only be doing it for self-gratification.

I hear that writing too many abrasive comments on other people's articles leads to hairy palms and madness.

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