We do most things nowadays via telecommunications. It’s quicker, we become more efficient, and sometimes we forget to spell check. Or even proof read. We’re so used to the QWERTY keyboard and our mobile phones’ keypad that I, for one, often find myself punching the enter button without so much at a glance at what I’ve just typed. We’ve all been made aware of the fact that time is money and therefore we’ve deduced that the speedier we are the more we can get done in the shortest amount of time. It all comes down to productivity. But have you ever done a double take and wondered if what you’ve just said was typed or written in the way that it was meant to be construed? Is the said sent email or IM or SMS actually typed in the positive (or negative, depending) discernable light in which it was intended? We need to be more aware that things such as tone form a huge part of how we as humans actually piece together and understand a statement, question or random muttering uttered from someone else.
Just a recap for those of you who know what the use of tone is meant for and a lesson for those of you (are there any) who don’t, according to Wikipedia: "Tone is the use of pitch in language to distinguish lexical or grammatical meaning—that is, to distinguish or inflect words. All verbal languages use pitch to express emotional and other paralinguistic information, and to convey emphasis, contrast, and other such features in what is called intonation..."
How do we convey tone, then, through technological language?
Living in this digital age, it is my opinion, and is virtually evident that tone has gone for a ball of shit and all we have at our disposal are a few overused yellow faces for the indication of happiness, anger, boredom and love. (Yes, that stupid little face with the two hearts as eyes) What with all the shortened or abbreviated words (for convenience, and ultimately, productivity, I am aware) such as ‘ur’, acronyms such as ‘lol’, and made up words that have become so widely-used such ‘meh’ – used as a synonym for average – and consequently are listed in American dictionaries (yes, we’re paving the way to a brighter, less articulate future), please tell me how the fuck we are actually meant to understand a received message with all these new-age words in it and know if what we’ve read is how it was meant to be interpreted?
An example of the premature enter punch blunder is ‘the classic drunken text’ – this is when your drunken alter-ego decides to take control of your keyboard or mobile and send potentially embarrassing texts or emails to ex-girlfriends, enemies or friends. No one is exempt from Drunk Ian’s need to let them know exactly what happened that night in great detail. Upon checking those great details the following morning, I’ve experienced it firsthand, you become privy to a screen littered with the funniest shit imaginable – funny to everyone else, except you. Optimistically speaking, your ex might not appreciate the fact you called her out on why she made the relationship fail, but what Drunk Ian texts are the cold hard facts. After all, drunken words are sober thoughts - Or are they?
Another example, which is quite entertaining but entirely pointless, is ‘the classic cyber argument’. This is comprised of – ordered as such – an apology followed by a misconstrued apology-argument. This one’s a cycle which only peters out due to boredom of one party or both, my friends. In my opinion, winning an argument over any digital medium is just like winning a gold medal at the Special Olympics; it doesn’t matter, you’re still ‘special’. Apologies need to be heartfelt or they are just empty words, right? Why are we spending the extra R2 on theoretically misinterpreted texts is we’ve established that the use of tone is what gives words that special (not in the Olympics sense) feel. Make it heartfelt, you thrifty bugger.
Here’s another example: You have a desire to ask someone out on a date yet lack the ‘cahonies’ to do the face to face thing. So you think, why not send a text? Time = money and you need them dollars, don’t you! Well, if you can’t pluck up the nerve to do it face to face, are you going to sit with your Blackberry under the table and BBM each other the whole time at the plush restaurant you choose to dine at? Now don’t get me wrong - I know that sometimes a well-typed and -timed text message can get you the goods. I’m even sure you get a type of ‘cyber playa’ out there with all the words and skills in a chat room (but when it’s time for aural stimulation, said playa lacks the practice and skill of conversing with anyone other than his granny and is left pissing like a puppy). I say matters of the heart need to be verbalized people. The whole I <3 U thing may work for a while (and seems thoroughly effective regarding your time, I know) but without the tickling of the cochlea, words on a screen are just that - words on a screen.
To put all of this in a neatly wrapped package, it is my opinion that those lines of script that you endlessly type out, day in day out need to be relative. If they’re meant for your chick, they’re meant to be verbalised, not button bashed all over a screen. (This is comparative, of course. If you’re going to see her later and talk with your voice box but just want to say “hi”, then it’s fine) We need to realise that we should value the language, and take the time to talk. It’s one of the greatest gifts we, as humans, have: the ability to speak (true, some people should have that gift taken away). Shout, scream, rage, whisper sweet nothings, and so on. Enjoy the act of talking. Communication between your co-workers, family, friends, and lover is bound to get better if it’s not just texted but spoken, tone interpretation and all.