Say what you mean, mean what you say

You may think it’s a recent phenomenon, but communication has been looked at from countless perspectives through centuries, not only in terms of what is voiced or represented, but also in the factors that determine how individual thought can find social meaning or the opposite. Maybe I don’t talk much; does that mean I’m rude? I don’t always use a certain word, but does anyone expect me to? I want to express how I feel, but how can I be sure people can relate? I feel comfortable with my choices, but am I the only one who thinks and talks like this? In the age of artificial intelligence, these questions take new meanings: machines learn to create categories for language as they do for entire identities, and clicking or pressing a button is also a form of communicating. What I have to say, though, is often not as important as my facial features, the way I dress, the places I visit, who I talk to with more frequency or an external perception of what I want to achieve with a certain form of expression – a more generic term than speech or language. We write more than ever, but definitely not like before: the idea that something printed is official has become too blurry with a long history of media and formal uses of text, more recently evolving to informal uses of image and video.

It’s hard to resist an analysis, but we understand that now being polite isn’t taking your shoes off at the door, elbows off the table or smiling when you say good morning, but I don’t want to miss the point on how we’re living our lives in the comfort of our homes. I assume you’re going to reply to my message, I expect my friends to like what I post, I need your support on my lengthy description of a political perspective, and maybe I’m asking you to chip in a few bucks for my project because it’s the right thing to do. If you move this to the workplace, there’s a lot that we can say based on bad or good experiences, from the dress code to the tone of your voice. We all get that, but few people actually grasp that formality isn’t a synonym of politeness, and that’s how people lose their rights without even noticing. If you work in a higher position, everyone is going to expect you to assume your role effectively and without interruption, but regardless of what you deliver in a meeting or a conference, what does the real you want to say? The secret formula to pleasing everyone isn’t found anywhere, but it should be worth pointing out that doesn’t have to be your greatest prospect, even if you think everyone’s secretly trying.

Even before social media, people only presented versions of themselves, drafts and cropped representations, just like a literary work is a fraction of a society and the mind of an author, or paintings tried to convey meaning by creating a certain aesthetic in the hopes of it being accepted. What we truly need to understand and solve, more urgently, is why not accepting became the new cool: hate speech spreads through the web at lightning speed, real violence is often justified by what someone said without a clear context and while nonsense, mockery and verbal abuse gain new grounds, a different type of discussion needs to take place, and that works on all levels, not just an honest, respectful conversation, but on paper, in the public domain, to make sure nobody loses a job for saying fuck or gets a death threat because they stated an opinion.