I’m moving! …Again.

Yeah, I know. There hasn’t been a lot of activity here. I recently bought some web hosting and will be moving my blog to my new website http://www.trentmenssen.com

I felt the blog here was a little too narrow in focus and I wanted to be able to write and make other types of content (thinking about YouTube videos and podcasts) and post all of it in a central place.

To any WordPress subscribers, you’ll still see my updates once the move is completed in your Reader, but you’ll have to resub for email subscriptions. It’s in the upper right on the new blog. I hope you’ll follow me as I get back into the swing of things. I’m excited about writing about all of my passions: Religion still, as always, but also video gaming, LGBT issues, TV/movies, and whatever else strikes my fancy.

Lots of love,
Trent

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Internet Debate Fails: Text

boromir-argument-internet

Hello again my wonderful blog friends. I hope you’re having a fantastic weekend. Here in Kansas City the weather is beautifully overcast in the low seventies, perfect for blogging on a Sunday afternoon. This summer is definitely turning out better than last year, and I’m grateful for that.

In my efforts to branch out my blog I immediately had quite a few ideas come to mind. The one I want to write about today kept getting more involved so I broke it up into a few different sections. I’m calling the ‘series’ Internet Debate Fails. As someone who has involved myself in my fair share of internet debates, and as someone who sees a positive side to them, I want to talk about different aspects of online debates and discussions and the pitfalls involved and why they often fail. First up is the failures of a text-only medium.

Any internet discussion or debate you enter into, unless you’re trading videos on YouTube, which would be awesome, is all done in a text-only format. There are certainly benefits to this level of online discourse that we have, but there are a number of failures. The easiest to see, or the one that frustrates me the most is the limited communication medium of text. Text is just insufficient to incorporate the full nuance and complexity that our language has evolved with.

I’m certain that I am not the only person who has entered into a discussion online and had the person I was talking to completely misunderstand what I was trying to say despite the fact that the words I was using were clear as day for everyone involved to see. The problem is that while intricate and powerful, words alone often fail to communicate exactly what we are trying to say. Whenever I see this is happening, I try to take people through the following mental exercise that I want you to go through with me, it might make you better at online communication. Take the following sentence:

I didn’t say that about you.

Most likely this is a response to an accusation. What does it mean? Well that depends entirely on how it’s said. I’m going to place an asterisk next to each word in the same sentence. Read the sentence out loud and emphasize the word with the asterisk and watch how it changes, or at least adds a whole new level of depth to the meaning of the sentence, when you emphasize that word.

*I* didn’t say that about you. – This implies that someone said ‘those things’ about you, it just wasn’t me.

I *didn’t* say that about you. – This doubles down and reinforces the original meaning that I didn’t say those things about you.

I didn’t *say* that about you. – …but I certainly thought those things about you.

I didn’t say *that* about you. – I said something else about you..

I didn’t say that *about you*. – I said them about someone else. (Yes this isn’t a single word, but emphasizing the preposition doesn’t really do as much and it’s kind of awkward, just go with it.)

Tone, inflection, and emphasis add complexity to our language and our ability to communicate. There are entire levels of speech and types of dialogue, like sarcasm, that are almost completely undetectable when written unless you know important context clues or have a really good relationship with the person doing the typing, which you often don’t have online. As a society we’ve tried to circumvent that problem slightly by adding emoticons ( Β πŸ™‚ Β πŸ˜‰ Β πŸ˜› Β etc.), but they’re not always effective, we haven’t agreed on how they should be used, and certain types of people still refuse to use them so their meaning is lost.

Speaking of meaning being lost, I want to address a common issue I’ve been seeing. For anyone older than forty or fifty, you might not understand the following, and yes I know this is kind of tangential, but it needs to be said. In common online usage, if you do something in capital letters, people are going to think YOU’RE SHOUTING AT THEM. If you don’t want that to be how you come across, find another way to emphasize your point.

That brings me to one of the failures in our current online predicament. How do you emphasize a word? Normally you’d use italics,Β bold, orΒ underline.Β Yet you won’t find those options on Facebook or any online forums that I see on a regular basis. I’ve taken to adding asterisks as I showed you above, sometimes surrounding it with -hypens- but that sometimes creates formatting issues.

Next is mood, or tone. There is no way that I know of to paint the tone of what you’re saying except the words you choose and the punctuation (period vs. exclamation point). Not exactly nuanced, is it? Putting this into a real situation, let’s take it back to the 2012 Presidential Election. If you’re a democrat commenting on someone’s pro-Romney meme with what you feel are legitimate questions or concerns, the person reading your comments has exactly three things they know about you: They know you disagree with their position, they know the words you chose to use, and they know your profile picture, that’s all. Everything else is left up to them. Are you being sarcastic in your questions? Are you heated and inflammatory, or are you honestly seeking a discussion because you’d like to see their point of view? That is entirely up to them.

Language is so much more than the words we speak. It is nuanced with tone and emphasis, with body language (grinning, winking, rolling your eyes, leaning forward, leaning back, not to mention the amount of things people do with their hands while speaking) and Β noises (laughing, dismissive snorts, sighs, gasps, grunts). Written language can relate almost none of that, and yet we use it in every person to person, or even phone conversations (body language not included of course).

This is all just scratching the surface, of course. I guess the main point I want to get across, is that online debates are usually very complicated, and we tend to have them on topics that are sensitive and complex, yet we do them in one of the least expressive ways possible, which is text. The best way to make this work despite the weaknesses in this forum, because I do still believe they are worth having, because I’ve had too many good ones to ignore, is to give the other person a break. Ask a lot of questions, until you have a really good handle on what they’re saying. Begin your posts with, “I think you’re trying to say ______, is that what you meant to convey?” I’ve been constantly amazed at the number of arguments where people actually are really close to agreeing with each other, or finding a compromise, but they’ve spent the last twenty comments or more just talking past each other’s real points at the assumptions they’ve made in their head. I’m definitely guilty of it, but I’d like to see everyone improve on it.

Thoughts, comments, questions, disagreements? Let me know below in the comments! Happy Sunday!

Fresh Look, Fresh Direction

Hey all! After a very short internal debate with a few comments and perspectives, I have given the site a new name, address, and graphical face lift. After an hour and a half, no joke, of browsing free WordPress themes, because I’m cheap, I’ve decided on a look and have started to customize it. There are a few tweaks and changes to come, but welcome to the new site! Don’t worry, all of my old posts are here, and I’ll be giving them their own page (once I figure out how that works), and lots of experimentation with new kinds of posts to come. Expect to see posts about music, politics, sports (especially Sporting KC), religion/atheism, and whatever else my brain thinks up.

Opinions, comments, leave them below, tweet to me @Neznem, or email them to lifeofneznem@gmail.com

Happy Monday everyone!

– Trent / Neznem

Being Liberal at BYUI Part 1: Prop 8

I should be in bed right now, but I couldn’t let an entire month go by without writing. The problem with organizing my thoughts so much with Evernote is that I now have too many ideas for blog post topics that it’s hard to decide what to write about. I decided to take a ‘request’ as it were. After my post about college a friend told me he’d be interested to hear more about what it was like being a Liberal at BYUI in Rexburg, ID. I have some pretty strong opinions about this so keep the disclaimer in mind.

By the time 2008 rolled around I was decently established at college, living with some of my best friends to this day, and enjoying my Sophomore year. Β I already leaned left in many of my political views and had some very different views than many of my friends and classmates, and most definitely different from my professors and ecclesiastical leaders. I’d always been taught by my parents that the church always took a neutral position when it came to politics. I learned this was not true, or at least not entirely accurate, though it wasn’t until months later that I learned the full extent of what was going on in California on a local level, but we can get into that another time, this is about my story.

Discussion about this issue was everywhere. Literally. I mean, at this school you already had issues with people bringing up Nephi or the the Apostle Paul in Math class but this was just on an entirely different level. It was mentioned in people’s prayers, in devotionals, CES firesides, at meals, just about everywhere you went it was a topic of discussion always close at hand. This really didn’t bother me too much. I’ve always enjoyed discussing with people and this gave plenty of opportunities. The tipping point that made me angry had to do with a certain FHE activity the ward had planned.

Let me back up to cover this for those who might not know. LDS church members are divided up into wards, or congregations, by geographical area and you are expected to attend your ward whenever possible. This is all quite practical, well and good on an organizational standpoint. Family Home Evening (FHE) is a weekly activity that is encouraged by the church as a way to promote family unity and to strengthen family bonds. When you’re single however they break up the singles into groups of boys and girls, usually by apartments, and assign leaders. We called them mom & pop though we were encouraged not to. Many great friendships came from these groups because it had you socialize with people you might not otherwise meet. You plan activities together like game nights, sporting groups, service projects, really just whatever you want to do. Sometimes, however, the ward will do an entire ward FHE where everyone in the congregation gets together.

I remember in church, the day before, it was announced we would be having a ward FHE and that everyone was to meet in the building where we had church. I don’t even recall the name of the building anymore. It was the one past the Hinckley Building up on the hill where I had statistics class… Anyway, it’s not important. I showed up and, before it started, asked the girl leader of our ‘family’ if she knew what was going on. She didn’t know the specifics but she’d heard it had something to do with a phone bank and Prop 8. That got me worrying. We all gathered in and the Bishop told us we would be carpooling to Idaho Falls to participate in a phone bank where we would be calling voters in California and encouraging them to vote yes on Prop 8. When the little opening meeting was finished and people started being organized into carpools I approached one of the counselors to the bishop. I told him I didn’t agree with Prop 8 and wouldn’t be going. He told me he was extremely disappointed with me and that I should reconsider. When I told him I wasn’t going still he told me it would reflect badly on my upcoming ecclesiastical endorsement (something required for continued attendance at the school) if I let my FHE attendance drop “over something petty like this.” I laughed, told him that to me this was far from petty, that the church had no business being as involved as it was, and he could do what he felt was right concerning my endorsement. I went home.

To the bishopric’s credit, my next endorsement went through with no issues and I never heard anything about it again.

This incident was the most blatant but was really the tip of the iceberg. There was very much an intense cultural feeling that if you were not vocally for Prop 8 then you were simply not a good Mormon. It was everywhere.

This is going to have to be cut a little short because I’m finally starting to get very tired. I’ll work on a followup to expound a bit more of the dominant culture present at that school at the time and talk about how much fun it was to be an Obama supporter at that school. Love you all, good night.