You know how some paintings are obvious masterpieces? A perfect unity of color, line, perspective, and form culminating in something that provokes, inspires, and moves people. And how some other paintings are just a big jumbled mess that makes you wonder why the artist ever put paint to canvas, or that, even worse, actually offends? Conversation is a lot like that. Chris Cornell once wrote in The Day I Tried to Live, "The words you say never seem to live up to the ones inside your head." Those words resonated with me, and have become even more apropos now that so many of my conversations take place via the written word here on the interwebz. Pretty much everyone realizes the disconnect-- Without tone of voice and facial expression to help with conveying the meaning of your words, you're at the mercy of them being interpreted in a myriad of unexpected ways, no matter how carefully you try to choose them.
For example, you can be happily conversing in a chatroom when someone mentions what they're eating. Completely off the top of your head, you type "I haven't eaten that since I was a kid". On your end of the internet, it's nothing more than a statement of fact and you're thinking "Wow, it's been a long time since I had that" and the words you both typed and thought are accompanied by nostalgic memories from childhood. On the other end of the internet, though, there are people thinking "Wow, she just insulted that person's taste in food. She must think she's better than people who eat that." How does that happen?
On another occasion, you could write something with a lighthearted, joking intent, with a mischievous grin on your face as you type, only to find out that people on the receiving end are deciding that you're a disrespectful troll hiding behind the anonymity of the internet. How does that happen?
I often wonder if people interpret the written words they read in a tone that they themselves might use, depending on what their own mood is at the moment, instead of stopping to think about the person who wrote the words, and what they know about that person. You'd think that enough of us have experienced this phenomenon to give each other the benefit of the doubt, to not assume the other's intent quite so quickly. Perhaps we're all too busy multi-tasking. Or, perhaps, that fatal flaw of faceless, voiceless communication will never be completely overcome. How on earth did people handle this sort of thing back in the days of letter writing?
On the flipside, there are also times when this weird disconnect can be intentionally manipulated, such as when you sit at your desk in a state of miserable depression and, by scattering a few exclamation points and smiley emoticons through your words, convince the people on the other end of the internet that you're actually quite cheerful. Funny, that.
I don't know about you, but I don't know what to say. I don't think I ever will.