Thursday, September 24, 2009

(empo-tuulwey) Tools lie

Last Sunday, the sermon at my church touched upon James 1:23-24, and in addition to reflecting on the message in the sermon, I also began thinking about mirrors in a secular sense. And in essence, I've decided that mirrors lie - and other tools that we use have the capability of lying also.

Let's start with mirrors. I look in a mirror every day, so therefore I know exactly what I look like. And I know from looking in the mirror that when someone looks at me, the part in my hair is on the left side.

So why is this picture incorrect?

It turns out that the tool that I use to look at myself, namely the mirror, gives me a false view of what I look like, since it effectively executes a left-right reversal of my true image.

Other tools that we use give a false impression of us, or at least an incomplete impression. Take Twitter, for example. If you were to conclude that the @empoprises Twitter account were the real me, then you'd think that I always spoke in short bursts. And that I don't have an accent. And in some cases (not mine), you may think that you were tweeting to a sexy 20-year old French female when you were really tweeting to a 58-year old Ukranian man.

But even when you rule out outright fraud, tools have a way of distorting things. There have been tons of electrons devoted to the hazards of communicating via electronic mail vs. communicating in person. Here's an example: allows confrontation from a distance. Folks who wouldn't even dream of saying certain things to your face don't have a problem with emailing you the exact same comments. This certainly is far less productive than having meaningful, face to face discussions to resolve any issues at hand.

Note that email potentially changes the person. Perhaps someone will comment on this post using all caps, but if they met me in person they'd be much quieter.

And the medium itself inflicts communication barriers:

Sarcasm rarely works in emails. It takes an ability to perceive nonverbal signals so probably is understood only by those who know you very well. Sarcasm can be cutting and condescending; some people will understand your message as just that.

I tried to think of a sarcastic remark to add here, but...well, let's just leave it at that.

The "I am not angry" picture above was uploaded to Flickr by Dave Winer. When he posted the picture, he offered the following comment:

People read blog posts and email messages and superimpose their own emotions on what they're reading because intonation is impossible in written work. And then they hold the author responsible for their emotions! Usually it's anger that they "project" in this way. When that happens to you, send them a pointer to this picture. It might make them laugh and take some of the heaviness out of the situation. A good laugh is always on-topic, imho, because nothing really is that serious. It's not as if anyone gets out of this alive. :-)

And if you really want to check a lack of emotion, listen to the Odiogo audio version of this post (which should be available for a few weeks after this is posted). When Odiogo "reads" the post, it cannot find sufficient clues to indicate emotion. So phrases such as happy happy joy joy have the same intonation as phrases such as this is the most terrible thing that has ever happened to our family. Happy happy joy joy I cannot believe this terrible thing happened it doesn't really make any difference to Odiogo, does it?

It's important to remember that a tweet, or a blog post, or a podcast does not encapsulate the totality of the person who created them. Don't make the mistake of thinking otherwise.
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