Greedy Goblin

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Why serious conversations must be in writing

I've been a long time supporter of written conversations. I banned voice chat in my WoW guild because I believed it will eventually become a hive of social slacking. While I do think that still, I also see that it's not the biggest problem with spoken conversations. I also see that speech has advantages, mainly speed that is important if you want to raid with morons who have too much fun in real life to notice that they are sitting in the fire.

My recent interest in politics made me recognize two much more serious problems with speeches. One is "winning". When a social argue, or when argument takes place front of an audience of socials, "winning" becomes more important than reaching conclusion. There is a reason why people say "X destroyed his opponent". Conversation isn't warfare, the purpose is enlightening the other party, not destroying it. I talk to convince them with arguments. But it's easier to just attack with ad hominems, or perform a stand-up comedy to make the audience laugh, to make them like me and be biased for me. This is especially tempting to competing people who wants to be seen better than the other. The problem is that the matter at hand doesn't play a role. "because you would be in jail" - thrown in the face of Hillary Clinton by Donald Trump was pure awesome. So was the "my drug is preparation" by Clinton. Neither one had anything to do with their policies. We had good laugh, but didn't get closer to understand migration or global trade.

In a written exchange such tricks can be called out and then only the arguments answered. The one whose post is nothing but ad hominems and meme-spamming can easily become a clown. Even if the jokes work, the audience can take the time to laugh and then return to reading the arguments.

The other main disadvantage of spoken conversation is real or virtue-signaled emotions. People are invested in their positions and conflicting arguments induce cognitive dissonance (butthurt). They start yelling or crying. Or... they can fake all these things to signal to the audience how true believers they are. In writing it doesn't matter. You can yell at the screen, it won't disappear. You can't get applause or hugs for a teary performance. You can also take the time to cool off, get your psyche together before answering.

I believe that youtube vlogs (what the hell is the positive of watching some guy talking instead of reading the speech) and short social media formats with the goddamn "like" button damaged the political and philosophical conversations. If we want to reach consensus, find "the truth", we must return to longer, less immediate writings.

Finally and most importantly, unless you are debating with a moron or a social who just regurgitates whatever he read/heard (you do that 99% of the time), you will be presented a good argument that you won't know the answer instantly. In an immediate debate, you must either deflect or ad hominem to make the audience not notice that you can't answer instantly, derailing the conversation. In writing, you have time to research and think about it.


S Riojas said...

The problem with getting people to read more than to talk is that culturally, westerners are becoming more and more passive. Reading requires active thinking, you have to do things to read, you have to see and process more than simply sitting back and listening. You can do some amazingly deceptive things talking to someone that you cannot do in mere writing.

VLOGers are popular because the viewer simply watches images and has little to think about apart from what is shown them and told them. If they had to read a wall of text, they would have to think about what they were reading rather than simply soaking in the images. TV, movies, and now youtube have made people lazier thinkers than before. The easy route is the less thoughtful route. The written word requires thought.

Anonymous said...

Serious discussions can be held by speaking or writing.

Speaking requires you to know and understand your position. Writing allows you to google before responding.

Depending on the person putting the point across, either will work.

If a speaker feels they have to resort to ad hominems in a discussion, I suggest they do not know their topic and are purely regurgitating.

@sriojas " You can do some amazingly deceptive things talking to someone that you cannot do in mere writing. "
You can do those in writing too, unless you think deceptive things never appear in text.
Dismissing the skill in discussion is to dismiss the skill of oration.

That people lack the skills to understand rhetoric is more of an issue with our education than with the spoken word.

Anonymous said...

You have obviously never seen the nonsense put out by some UK tabloids.
Written stuff is boring. M&S won't read a manifesto but they will listen to put-down. Written media has a low engagement rate in today's world with any responses and corrections come out even lower. We cannot be Luddites and demand a return to the days when the main form of communication to the public was written missives available to only the powerful. The genie of modern communication has been released. Rather than ban new tech we should stop being lazy and learn a way to use it effectively and responsibly.

99smite said...

@ Riojas:

This is exactly the point. A vocal conversation will always be "dumber" than a written one as the participants have less time to think about the opponent's arguments, about what they are to answer and mostly, they lack the resources to fact check, what the opponent claims to be the truth.

This is why TV shows, in which the candidates "debate" face to face are so popular among so many politicians. They do not need to have good arguments, they just need to put up a better show.
Very often politicians defend their poor wording for very important issues by claiming that the "dumb voters" would otherwise not understand the meta-message... Sadly, politicians who openly throw shit in their voter's faces get away with it and in some cases are being hailed for their "true words"...

Anonymous said...

writing is a great tool to organise thought.

I'm no friend of spoken words. But there are to many good lectures with awesome profs lecturing ... that I can't abandon speech. all the open lecture formats Stanford, MIT etc the STEM fields are worth listening to (humanities not). I love to listen to Jordan Peterson, granted his lectures and interviews point to many authors and books so my reading log is full for years now.
I also like good debates. the english kind of pro/con debate. Christopher Hitchens had many just awesome debates.
of course these are all well read and articulate people. their info is easily searchable and verifiable. and not full of garbage.

and you can virtue signal in text. 4chan is living prove. every gender studies PhD thesis or paper is a worthless junk of virtue signalling only bought by libraries and never referenced outside their ingroup ever.
Ok, yes you filter a bit more surface area like tone, rhythm, volume and gestures and facial expressions. But sometimes that is needed to get the point across. So it is a mixed bag in the end.

Anonymous said...

Most people, in their entire lifetime, say nothing of value to humanity - putting trivial topics (like this one, this is barely scratching the surface of things long known and researched, but under the guise of "hey, i am just educationg idiots here" everything goes i guess) to scrutiny is wasting time of people who actually get shit done.

When talking socially it is about the person rather than the subject and for most people this is a more rewarding path to take - you beeing able not to crumble when faced with input you do not know and/or is contradicting something you said/done, is essential and a skill in itself (we call that "thinking on your feet" - now people who are bad at wow-dances and subscribe to nothing but proper-prep-prevents-piss-poor-performance mantra will obviously denounce this, in writing and verbally).

S Riojas said...


Education is a crucial part of it, but culture is a stronger part. If a Culture does not value written words over the transitory nature of spoken words, then that culture will also tend to focus less and less on the written word. Likewise, if a culture values process over results: ie: go to school and graduate versus go to school learn and get good grades resulting in graduating, you end up with the poor education system in America today. Graduation is no longer a result of learning but of process to get out of High School so you can go to College so you can get $$$ from a lush job. You end up with people who know the right answers, but have no clue how to formulate a good answer let alone why it is the right answer.

Lazy thinking is strongly promoted by visual media. The presidential race of 2008 was one in which the smooth talker won, not because he was the better person but because he said the right words in the right way - despite any critical analysis of those words revealing self-contradiction.

The laziness of debates today, which is seen in the showiness of those debates, is exactly because people read less and think less critically about what is being said. Their mind becomes intellectually weak because they have no firm foundation on which their understanding of language, or words, of meaning is based. Worst is that they know their audience is likely going to get bored and tune out if they don't make a show of it.

The best thing any parent can do for their children is to trash the TV and Barney-esque CDs and to read to their kids as they are growing up until the kids can read on their own. But that takes time and dedication to do and too many parents find it easier to use the TV and school to babysit their kids.

souldrinker said...

If writing is so good, why do people bother with classroom education? They could just read the textbooks and get the knowledge.

Gevlon said...

@Anon: wrong. While most people indeed don't create objectively new knowledge (only scientists do that), they make decisions that affects the mankind (for example electing Trump over Hillary). These decisions are better made if based on - no matter how limited - knowledge rather than emotions.

@Souldrinker: education is not conversation as it's already decided who is "right": the teacher has the knowledge and students are there to learn it. The students can ask to clarify and are more engaged if socially stimulated (especially important to small kids).

Ael said...

Lying is much easier in writing.
There is a chance that you will blurt out the truth when speaking.

Reporters prefer to talk to people, rather than email them, for this reason.

Gevlon said...

@Ael: which is important if you have an investigation. But in case of a debate it doesn't matter if the speaker believes his statement (or lies), the statement itself matters.

Anonymous said...

Also jokes usually are way more funnier from a comedian compared to reading it.

I'm dyslectic as fuck and I prefer reading about news and stuff instead of watching TV or some idiot vloger with a patreon account. I guess read as much as you can and listen to book readings on longer commutes. Don't mindlessly consume some idiot letsplayer or what ever, I'm not fan of twitch either, it's a waste of time.

Provi Miner said...

you should look at how debates are run as an event: ie school v. school Both sides know the issue, can not side track it, one to prove the positive position the other to disprove the positive position. If both do their research then they are able to factually counter the others argument in a time/scored format. No social "winning" yet a competitive "winner".

maxim said...

There is nothing wrong with audio or video formats themselves. I have listened to a great deal more great texts than i have read through audiobooks and podcasts. When it comes to youtube, i find myself listening to them much more than watching (often having my phone waste battery by playing a youtube video inside of my pocket while i'm not looking and only listening on the headphones).

There are basically two important bits when it comes to pursuit of truth through text. First, you need to be able to rewind and read / listen again if any parts seem confusing or wrong. Second, the author / speaker must have the intention of actually providing a useful and true text - no matter how much you rewind and listen intently to someone like, say, Solzhenicin, it is still a bunch of lies and propaganda, which will only make sense after you buy into its conclusions.

Anonymous said...

@gev (anon #3)
I never said doing - it is about saying vs writing, also the scientist part only worls cyclicly.