Thursday, September 22, 2011

How to Communicate Online

I've a piece on the ABC today, 'Communication: it's always better when we're together'.

I'm arguing that arts and letters can help us to avoid nasty spats online - the costs of a disembodied relationship.  (So the headline's not quite accurate, but never mind.)  A sample:
One of the great achievements of the modern novel... is its depiction of consciousness: the inner life usually lost to us. This is why I keep re-reading Virginia Woolf's brilliant Mrs Dalloway: good fiction can help us realise how much of another human being is left out, exaggerated, diminished or just faked. It is a lesson in the precariousness of understanding, and a spur to greater artistry with words. 
Ultimately, words cannot replace palpable proximity. Hence the lament of so many letter-writers over the ages: "If only we could be together." We cannot write ourselves out of separation. Nonetheless, with mindfulness and practice, we can certainly diminish its dangers.
(Photo: Llewi034)

2 comments:

Daniel June said...

you might be correct that physical proximity cannot be supplemented with any style or trope in a letter or novel, but then, perhaps intellectual proximity cannot be supplemented by any form or manner of physical engagement. For when we pick up the writings of any writer, we are viewing not any passing thought, but the soul-searching depths of his thoughts, purified and perfected. We can read his genius, yes, but also, we can read it at our own rate and as many times as we need to. For this reason, I think I feel like I understand the minds and hearts of writers in the way I never do with even my most candid of friends, because we have entered a virtual place where time is suspended.

Damon Young said...

Thanks, Daniel.

Yes, you're right. For example, sometimes physical proximity can blind us to certain things. We see someone's manner of speech, clothing, physiognomy, physique - but we're blind to the specific content of their words. The markers of class, for example, can make it difficult to communicate.

Nonetheless, this leads to the same conclusion: our task is to be as striking, concise or elegant with language as possible. Whether we're overcoming an accent or distance, finely-chosen words are necessary to fill in the gaps of sympathy or kilometres.