The other day, I sat in a seminar about presentations, and wondered at what was going on: was it a performance? How much of it was staged? I don’t usually attend the seminars but the group assembled were subdued, almost silent. My comments fed into the furnace and the game – why not play the game, you have to play the game if you want to join in, be one of us – snarled at me, or so it seemed. Our lives are postcard-open. Even emails must be written in a tone that both respects the possibility of misinterpretation and expects the malevolent hacker who may or may not use words against one (though they’d no doubt thunk their head against the keyboard if they were forced to read through most of the drivelling banalities included in my conversations). Even this ‘reply’ is circumspect: will one of the other attendees stumble upon it and reflect that I might have referred to them? Can they contrive an insult from it? What is going on? Is it because we know each other less well, we who correspond with virtual strangers, in communications reduced to metaphorical grunts and waves, smiley faces and exclamatia? Are we more ready to believe that behind the staged smiles our contempt for one another is mire-deep? Ready to pounce on any potential mockery and threaten with defamation laws? Perhaps it’s the written word that’s done it – all this text that hangs around incriminatingly long after we’ve sobered up or grown out of whatever phase distracted us when we said whatever it was we said, in anger, fear or sheer boredom. You write wonderfully, and your ideas are sizzlingly original. Thanks for your provocations – there needs to be more of it. I’m tempted to throw in something mean just to get you snarling but there’s plenty of offal out there to keep you outraged and vocal. I’ll sit in the corner with a wry smile. You have summed us up. Irony might brighten the situation but even irony requires the understanding of a tone of voice and it’s hard to find the font for ‘tone of voice’.
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