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My Thought on Intonation and Online Conversations

i feel that sometimes we here on chowhound miss intonation because we simply can't express it well in writing (other than my oft-present smiley emoticon). anyhow, i think if we said IN PERSON in a conversation what we say in writing here, we would just glide over and incorporate each others' comments as part of the conversation, rather than viewing every post as an assertion that must be directly addressed (if our name is in the "re:" line on the upper right of someone's post).

i'm not expressing it very succinctly, but i think you all can understand what i'm saying. sometimes a contribution is not directed at another person's comment, it is just a contribution. i get it. i do the same thing. sometimes a post takes things off on a little tangent or a pet idea, or something we really get excited about. sometimes we read a contribution as a slight or rebuke to our post, and very very rarely is that in fact true.

i am susceptible to doing the same thing on all these counts.

we all miss intonation, because we just cannot possibly "get" intonation (because we can't hear the conversation in our ears; we see it in writing). to really be explicit about intonation, one must really get wordy and i just don't think like that.

this is a general observation, and not directed at anyone. it is something i've seen over and over again on so many different threads, creating unnecessary friction where it really isn't intended or warranted.

grace, my friends, extend grace as much as you can muster -- 'cause we get enough junk in so many other places in life. ;-).

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  1. You said it alkapal! Great post and thanks for writing it. I almost got offended by someone's reply the other day but I forced myself to breath, reread it and imagine a gentler intonation. And all my irritation just dissipated.
    Now a little about me! He he! I am a gamer through and through. When the internet first became available to me it meant mo' games mo' games! At first I was thrilled beyond belief by the ability to talk to other gamers on line and in game. The very first site I visited was a gaming forum. I do think the internet was a kinder and gentler place back in June1998. Gamers found ways to add intonation to text. I still shudder when I see an all caps post because in my culture it means the words are being yelled loudly. It also bothers me when I see a post asking a question with two question marks after it instead of one. It implies a self important urgency to me and there is a good chance I won't read that post. Coming to chowhound after years on gaming forums has given me a deep appreciation of the fine community we have here. Like an oasis in the dessert! (pun intended) I am also deeply grateful to the mods who tirelessly cultivate this lush garden we all enjoy.
    I do think personality plays a huge part in all this. If anyone is familiar with the work of Isabella Myers-Briggs and her book Gifts Differing they will know what I mean. One of the people in the book asked Myers-Briggs to write about the compulsion to give advice to others that some personality types have, and the unfortunate results when the people actually followed the advice. Some of the problems I see here are when OPs are not even asking for advice but they get it in heaps and bundles, and some of it is pretty awful. Not sure what we can do about that.
    Sometimes the forums, not just my beloved chowhound, seem like one big ink blot test where people see what they wanna see. Yours truly included natch. :)

    4 Replies
    1. re: givemecarbs

      >Some of the problems I see here are when OPs are not even asking for advice but they get it in heaps and bundles, and some of it is pretty awful. Not sure what we can do about that.

      Don't think we should do anything about that. The OP is not the only person reading the replies. Others often benefit from them.

      1. re: givemecarbs

        It's interesting, because I'm also a gamer and one of the few places I do a lot of posting is a gaming site-- where, generally speaking, there's a lot less "OMG WHAT DID YOU SAY ABOUT ME" kind of stuff then other sites I post on-- gamers must have a secret knack for understanding written tone! (Although everyone here seems pretty good at it, too-- I lurk more than I post, but I've definitely seen conversations that turn defensive straightened out fairly quickly by people realizing that there was simply a breakdown of communication and no offensive was intended.)

        Truthfully, I get the feeling that a lot of missed tone/intent comes from the fact that so many of us are lazy typists. It's much harder to deduce the exact intonation from a post with no punctuation/capitals/etc, because those are the signals used in written-verbal communication to convey how the words on the page should actually be read. There's a big difference, tonally, between
        "i cant believe it" and
        "I can't believe it!" or, much more problematically
        "I CANT BELIEVE IT!!!1!!"
        While obviously it's the internet and very few people type like they're writing formal letters or the next great novel, from the composition side I think something we can all do to facilitate communication is simply to re-read our posts before we send them and make sure there's nothing that might get misconstrued. It's really easy to sound passive-aggressive on the internet, and that's something that sets a lot of people off. But you're right, givemecarbs, sometimes people are just going to read into anything you write whatever they want-- case in point, a few days ago on the gaming forum I frequent I commented on an article about a man stealing his 7-year old nephew (who has muscular dystrophy)'s Nintendo DS something along the lines of "What kind of a jerk do you have to be to do something like that?" to which another user responded, "What, are you saying that handicapped people are helpless lesser beings and it's worse to steal from disabled children than 'normal ones?'" ...... *sigh* Yes, by expressing sympathy, what I was *really* doing was expressing my hatred of the handicapped. Got me there, buddy. >__<

        I think alkapal's note on emoticons is also helpful-- I know a lot of people don't really like them or think they're "cutesy" or something (and I agree that they can't and shouldn't take the place of actual communication), but they exist for a reason. A smiley face is often the only thing that separates a "playfully sarcastic" or "joking" forum posting from sounding like a "self-righteous jerkbag" post, and different smilies can convey a lot of information. : ) is different from : D is different from : p, and the tones they carry with them can really help to make clear one's intention.

        I also used to do a lot of (very, very stupid and embarrassing) online role playing when I was a stupid teenager, so I also type a lot of "actions" when I post on forums. Stuff like " *rolls eyes* or *sigh* ", which work well as an alternative to emoticons or to express a more direct emotion.
        "oh i just love jerks on the internet" is probably sarcastic, but if you replace "jerks on the internet" with, say... "canned meat," it might not be.
        "Oh, I just LOVE canned meat! : D" is still sort of on the fence, and either way comes of as weirdly glib.
        "Oh, I just LOVE canned meat. *rolls eyes*" is very clearly supposed to be dismissive of canned meat as a food genre, and very clearly sarcastic.

        ...no offense meant, of course, to any canned meat lovers out there. ; D

        1. re: HJSoulma

          Spam (canned meat) in Hawaii can make me sigh in contentment

          Spam on the Internet can make me sigh in complete exasperation

          One sighs, definitely, does not fit all... ;-D>

          1. re: HJSoulma

            Heh. Great post HJSoulma. I'm glad I'm not the only one who types /facepalm and the like. Squid you make a good point, I was thinking of the more extreme examples where hounds dogpile on the OP and maul him or her. Surely you know some people in RL who are compulsive about giving advice? The unwanted unasked for advice can easily come off as condescending if the poster isn't careful. One good trick to avoid this is to not overuse the word "you". As in you need to blah blah blah, and instead say something like it's been my experience that yada yada yada. This is all basic stuff but it still works.
            On the other hand it always amazing when people are willing to argue and dismiss someone's personal experience, whether online or in person.
            One more pet peeve: when someone says how they are feeling and she or he is told well you are wrong to feel that way. Doh! There really is now arguing with feelings. Thanks again for starting such an intriguing thread alkapal.

        2. I agree, intonation is challenging when a general patience is lacking.

          1 Reply
          1. You, my dear, are the best for bringing up the intonation issue. Your last line holds the key.

            1. It's sometimes interesting to me to see how different individuals take the same text. People frequently read others in their own voice instead of the voice of the author. Consequently, what they take from the words on the page can be very telling. I sometimes want to expalin, "Not everyone comes to the table with the same belief structure, background, hang ups, etc. as you."

              At bottom, poor writing abilities, lousy reading comprehension skills, and short attention spans all contribute to cloudy communication. Each of us can try to minimize this by writing thoughtfully, reading carefully, and paying attention to the text and the context (I'm always amazed when someone jumps into a discussion with the preface "I haven't read all of the posts, but . . . .").

              I may be an anachronism with my preference for whole words and traditional grammatical structures, but until the "new language" has further evolved, it still provides a common point of reference. Traditional notions of kindness and tolerance maintain merit as well. Then again, so does a healthy ability to laugh at one self and maintain a thick skin.

              2 Replies
              1. re: MGZ

                All we each need to do is practice what we so often preach. My writing skills may appear lousy to some, short to others, all that's needed to a few...but having the kindness and patience, giving the benefit of the doubt to fellow food lovers is all I'm capable of...and all I wish to receive in the context of sharing wonderful cooking tips, local restaurant reviews, regional experiences. Even laughter and intrepretation can be misread...so, I'm sticking w/the benefit of the doubt. Kindness is universally understood (at least by the CH's I enjoy "talking" to).

                1. re: MGZ

                  "Then again, so does a healthy ability to laugh at one self and maintain a thick skin."

                  Well said. Another valid skill is to be able to ignore posters that tend to set us off. Both my time and mood are too precious to get too riled up about something somebody posted on a thread, particularly if that poster has proven to write provocative things *just* to provoke.

                  Those things should be rather easily ignored.

                2. All of you who have posted here are thoughtful, careful communicators - I haven't noticed any of you participating in the demolition derbies on NAF!

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: Veggo

                    Well, you were gone for a while, no? '-)

                    1. re: linguafood

                      Yes, I was given a few woodshed talks and a few "vacations". But I am now obsequious and submissive.
                      Can I paint your fence or walk your dog?

                      1. re: Veggo

                        V, you could make me breakfast anytime!

                        1. re: Veggo

                          No fences, no dogs. Cook me a meal..... any time.