15 January 2013

Leave it unspoken

I was going to start this post by telling you that I was thinking about something a lot. But then I realized that I start all my posts like that recently. So I did the meta thing and told you how I was going to start this post as the start of my post.

When in doubt, meta.

But anyway. The particular thinks have been about words, and the conundrums associated with them. These thinks have come to mind because, given the time difference between the west coast of the USA and the west coast of Australia, there is such a short window of time where my family and friends are awake while I am that I have increasingly resorted to the written word to communicate with the ones I love.

Written language is a marvel. The fact that a series of symbols can communicate an idea will blow your mind if you think about it too long. The fact that I can communicate with someone on the opposite side of the world using electronic representations of those symbols even more so.

I use the symbols to represent intangible thoughts, concepts, experiences, ideas, dreams, emotions. If I do it correctly, a little bit of me enters those symbols, those written words, so that the recipient can recognize my voice through the text.

My voice.

Do you remember the first time you heard a recording of yourself speaking? I still haven't reconciled my inner ideal with the less-impressive actuality.

But voices. With my voice, I can imbue words with more meaning than a literal definition. With my voice, I convey emotion. My voice is the best tool I have to tell someone " I love you."  It's the best way to say " we need to talk." It's the best way to say " I miss you,"  " you are valuable,"  " this is really cool,"  " you'd love this! " " let's grab coffee."

Because no matter how marvelous the written word is, it is dry and sterile compared to the living vocabulary of interaction.  To write any of the above phrases would convey the essential idea. But there are no undertones, no hints or secrets or promises, to the written word. Novelists have devoted millions of pages of words trying to capture the unspoken potential of a word unsuccessfully.

We invented emoticons in attempt to fix the emotional desert of words, but even these fall short.


:) cannot capture the glimmer in the eye, the smile licking its lips in the corner of a mouth, the biting of a cheek or the sticking out of the tongue. It represents the ironic smile, the flirty smile, the teasing smile, the innocent smile of delight. But it also represents none of them. :) is merely a symbol that just barely scratches the surface if subtext and context.

If these symbols are so inadequate at capturing a true relationship between thoughts and people, it stands to reason that maybe, just maybe, there are times when it is best to simply leave things unspoken. Why risk distorting the meaning, losing significance like the Hindenburg lost helium, when the voice is so vital to the message?  Is it not best to treasure those ideas and feelings for a time when they can be spoken? 

There is a beautiful ambiguity to the spoken language. The cadences of speech, the pauses and little speeds, the soft and loud. All serve to convey meaning to my recipient. When once I entrust the mere words to paper, however, they lose all ambiguity and since they were never spoken, can never be unspoken. Black symbols on white paper are absolute. They are not ambiguous, only unclear.

But at the same time, are there not ideas better said poorly than never said at all? Even a poor representation is better than none. Should I be silent because I'd prefer to leave you in the dark than give you a glitchy, pirated impression of what I would say were I there?

And on the third hand, how do I know the words would come more easily through my voice than through my fingertips?  Symbols are a poor substitute for an interaction, but can I truly know if the difficulties result from the medium?

Like stated earlier, I have been thinking about it a lot. I am no master of words, and as of yet, there is no easy answer.

Which means that until the rest of the world gets Skype, I'll be left wondering.


1 comment:

  1. I was going make a comment, but I decided it was best to leave it unspoken.