Monday, September 13, 2010

Text vs Speech

My wife, after reading my previous post, commented that it would be much harder for a service person to ignore requests to drop the canned and content-free responses and actually deal with the problem if the interaction were face to face rather than through typed text on a computer screen.

I was reminded of another conversation with her yesterday, after an extended World of Warcraft session in which we (and our son and daughter) had all participated. One of the other players, after leaving the group, had complained extensively and (by her account) unreasonably on the relevant chat group. My wife commented that the player in question came across as a much nicer and more reasonable person in voice communication than in text. She suggested that perhaps, to him, typed conversations were not entirely real, or at least much less real than voice communications. If the conversation is not real, the person on the other side of it is also not real, so being rude, even unjustifiably rude, doesn't really count—rather like being rude to a non-player character, a computer generated "person."

All of which may perhaps link back to an old puzzle of mine—why the mass lecture did not disappear after the invention of the printing press. And perhaps also to my experience, some years back, giving public lectures at long distance. I did it once over the telephone, and the experience was, from my end, very unsatisfactory, like talking into a hole. The second time was with video as well as audio—I could see the audience and they could see me—and it felt much more real.


GregS said...

We instinctively do verbal and non-verbal "mitigating" when we're actually in someone else's presence. We soften statements that might seem blunt if we had no way of communicating our tone. I think that's why internet comments and message boards quickly degenerate into flame wars, and gentle snark seems inflammatory. We rely on non-verbal feedback a lot more than we probably realize, and pick up on tiny or quick facial expressions without consciously noticing.

I've had a few conversations on message boards, and I'm always trying to convince myself that the person who's answering me isn't being a dick. "Is that a harsh correction or a polite but certain assertion? I'd know better if we were speaking face to face."

DerekM said...

I think that this may also reflect on many people’s written communication skills. When speaking face to face, it is possible to use language which is imprecise or does not accurately reflect what you are trying to convey to the other person because you can "adjust" your spoken communication with non-verbal cues. When communicating through writing, it's necessary to convey all of those subtleties through your writing. Some people may not have developed their written communication skills sufficiently to accurately convey both that direct content and the subtle adjustments usually made non-verbally. I think that this may also explain the frequent use of emoticons in much text chat.

Jonathan said...

This morning, when driving to a work appointment, a car turned in front of me driving slower than I wanted to drive. I was irritated, but followed him without giving any sign of annoyance -- I thought. He evidently thought I was following him too closely, and gestured visibly at the speed limit sign we both passed.

When I later took an opportunity to overtake him, he gave a prolonged indignant blast on his horn, although I had not harassed him with gestures, had not flashed my lights or sounded my horn. Some people are very sensitive to mood.

John Power said...

It is possible that there is another factor that contributes to rudeness in the WoW example. In a group chat forum, or when making a post that many people will read, (think of the old alt.philosophy.objectivism days) there is a tendency to 'perform' for the benefit of the other people listening in on the chat. Even face-to-face conversation is generally ruder when a group of people are talking as compared to one-on-one. For example, I might make fun of someone in a group to make the other people laugh, whereas I wouldn’t make the same joke if I were talking to him alone. So in WoW voice chat (or vent or what have you) there is typically a smaller audience to perform for so it moves closer to a one-on-one conversation.