As I’ve had access to the Internet from home since 1999, I’m no stranger to text-based communication such as online fora, e-mail, mailing lists and blog sites. And being as shy as I am, I have generally preferred it, as it can sometimes be the only way I am able to speak up and express my opinions. This doesn’t mean there are no misunderstandings. “Flame wars” can be a common consequence of misunderstandings online (they also come out of other disagreements, but those are irrelevant to this post).
Having recently gone through an online occurrence that I saw as a misunderstanding, I spoke to a counsellor with a psychology degree friend of mine who told me some high figure percentage (something between 78-90%, I forget exactly) of communication comes from voice inflection, facial expression and body language, and when we’re in vulnerable situations, anything we see or read as attacking or lashing out against our fears, scares us and does not always allow us to see the entire picture.
I have largely been a believer of trying to maintain face-to-face communication wherever possible for the past few years (since about 2003) because I like to get the whole picture, and not worry about delayed reactions. This was a large contributing factor for me suggesting to Jeremy when we met online that we meet in person only three days later. However, I wasn’t aware of this predatory/reactionary behaviour until this past weekend. It makes a lot of sense to me, though, having just read something as negative toward me when the person probably had her best intentions and my best interest at heart. It’s something I know I do quite often, now that I’ve been made aware of it, and I’m sure others have construed my words in the same way.
I also think that most people are to some extent self-centred, which can be magnified on the Internet, and therefore words can be taken a lot more personally than they might otherwise be taken during the standard course of a conversation where we are able to explain our point of view immediately, before a statement can be taken to heart and be allowed to fester. I know I’ve reacted this way in the past, and I’m sure other people do.
Maybe this is why I like film so much. Film is a visual medium, and therefore should be able to encompass all facets of communication such as facial expressions, body language, tone of voice – and it can be 100% controlled by the director, so if the message isn’t being accurately portrayed, the director will find another way to show what s/he wants. The advantage of film also is that close up shots can magnify certain points you want your audience to see.
Lastly, a great friend once told me that people generally only like to show us the selves they want us to see. I genuinely agree with this, as I have seen it exercised a number of times. It’s not even about the level of trust someone might have for one person. When my mum was ill with cancer in 2005, she tried so hard to keep up appearances when she had visitors so they would believe she would survive and things were okay, when in reality she was struggling so hard to do much of anything. As her carer, I saw the worst of what she could show to anyone, but there is no doubt in my mind that she suffered more than that. And sometimes we find ourselves in situations that are too hard to explain in words. You can only gain the same level of understanding of a situation through experiencing it first hand for yourself. Situations like cancer and other illnesses, blindness and other disabilities, grief from the death of a loved one, or even raising a family. None of these situations can be compared as they differ so greatly from each other.
Disclaimer: I keep thinking that one day I may like to study psychology just for my own personal interest. I judge situations from my own personal psychological perspective often enough that it’d probably be better if I had the theory to back it up properly.