I was intrigued by some research I spotted recently which seems to prove that the pen is, indeed, mightier than the sword. Well, it’s mightier than the spoken word, anyway.
The research suggested that there’s a specific reason why arguments on Facebook so often degenerate to slagging matches. It’s the same issue lawyers run into when discussions are are reduced to letter-exchanges. All that usually happens is that the letters get tetchier and tetchier, and finally the issue goes to court.
What happens, it seems, is that points made in written form are often taken much more seriously by the recipient than the same content presented verbally.
To me this stands to reason; spoken words sweep past and are gone, or can be immediately countered with something else. When we speak, we also obtain the essence of the meaning even if the wording’s loose, in part because of the context of tone, body language and the other unspoken ways in which we communicate.
Written words simply don’t have that ‘meta-data’ with them and it’s too easy to misinterpret them. Or somebody wanting to point-score can deliberately choose to misinterpret or nit-pick meanings in ways that wouldn’t work in a verbal interchange.
One of the key issues, it seems to me, is to do with the way we are conditioned to think, in particular to look for single-point ‘facts’ as answers, often in relation to quite complex questions that – in fact – cannot be answered that way. Some people even define reality purely as what they believe to be ‘fact’.
In a forum such as a Facebook comment thread, it simply isn’t possible to easily expound the relatively nuanced arguments that form the actual answer to some of the questions asked and debated. Simply quick-firing points off instead, which is what a lot of comment threads amount to, merely serves to provoke because it can present to the other party as a flat challenge to their own views.
If those views happen to also coincide with the world-view around which that person validates themselves and their sense of place and self-worth, then all sorts of trouble must follow.
And sometimes, as I’ve been noticing particularly in the past week, some people simply don’t even have the conceptual tools to understand something – the Dunning Kruger effect triumphs.
I can’t see an answer to this just now. Thoughts?
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2018