Thursday, August 13, 2009

Regarding Noise in the Channel

It's a big hit with the kids."Ah, well, it must be true if it's on the Interweb."
-- Liz Lemon, "Cleveland," 30 Rock (season 1)

In the 1984 movie Brazil, a single typographic error leads to a series of improbable events which ultimately affect several lives for the worse. Admittedly, Terry Gilliam movies usually feature improbable sequences of events, but Brazil seems a particularly apt parable for the concept...and risks of...misunderstanding.

We rely on so much non-verbal communication these days. Email, instant messaging, texting, Facebook, MySpace, twitter, and on and on. In some ways, we communicate more through phosphor dots than any other tool or device...even the telephone (mobile?) or even face-to-face contact. We type our thoughts as they occur to us; we send them zipping into cyberspace, barely remembering to consider spelling, grammer, or even logic at times.

Have you noticed how many "tpyos" get made? (& ya, I mean 'sides the obv. s/cuts & abbrv's. Duh! LOL.)

Have you ever noticed how things seem to take on more weight when they're written? Even when we know we should think critically, we don't. Perhaps this is one reason why so many flame wars erupt in online forums.

Sometimes, we change our lives because of our beliefs. Many times, this is good.

I wonder though, especially in today's digital society, how many of these changes stem from misunderstandings.

I wonder how many times we make major changes in our lives based on incorrect, incomplete, or simply misunderstood information. I wonder how many of these changes could be avoided if we verified things more often. If we remembered to think more critically.

Sometimes, you misread an email. Sometimes, you mis-hear a voicemail. Sometimes, an IM doesn't arrive. Sometimes, the check gets lost in the mail. Sometimes, you simply make a mistake.

I wonder how many of our fears come to pass because we forget to check our expectations at the door. How many times do we, intentionally or not, interpret things to match our fears. How many times do we convict someone through a jury of our fears, rather than through good judgement or critical analysis?

It's ironic, when you think about it. When someone whispers a rumor quietly, something outrageous or seemingly out of character, many respond with something to the effect of "Excuse me? Did I heard that correctly?" Yet, when faced with the same outrageous rumor (or idea) when presented online, the same folks generally respond with something akin to "OMG. WTF! I can't believe it!!" And then they do...believe it...unquestioningly. Why? Because it was written down? Because it was on the Internet?

It's hard enough to avoid misunderstandings in person, where a half heard word or simple distraction can lead to an argument. How much easier is it to misinterpret something when the only cues (or clues) are textually based? How much more likely is it that something will be misinterpreted?

Something worth thinking about the next time you reach for that flamethrower.


Photo credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sad, but true, dear friend, and increasingly frequent. Observing my youngest, I've found people hold on to these texts and posts as fuel for future arguments, too.

9:21 PM  

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