We’ve been slaves to this loveVille Hermanni Valo
From the moment we touched
And keep begging for more
Of this resurrection
This citation is from a song called Resurrection (HIM, 2000, track 5), and as we can clearly see it refers to the relationship that media and far-right movements have. Alternatively, it could refer to the culture of intentional misinterpretation that flourishes on social media. But is that phenomenon really a problem at all? At first sight it seems that everyone wins. The press gains content from social media outrages that happen occasionally, and ordinary people can forget their work stress while attending to ones. In this blog text, I will present my project topic, which is Ethical Challenges in Digitality, by reflecting on the theme of Culture of Intentional Misunderstanding.
The culture of intentional misunderstanding has emerged in connection with the public discussion. The expression of culture of misunderstanding is inaccurate, but it refers to a phenomenon where the discussion is not in line with the deliberative ideal. The late philosopher Paul Herbert Grice created the principles of cooperation in communication. He created different maxims for conversations that could help the conversation to be more beneficial. In brief, the content of Grice’s maxims could be crystallized in the following way:
Speakers rely on the fact that hearers will be able to reinterpret the literal content of their utterances, or ﬁll in missing information, so as to achieve a successful contribution to the conversation in hand. (Chapman, 2005, p. 91)
However, in an online discussion, people tend to quibble over minor details and be fixated on finding inconsistencies from others’ sayings. This denies the possibility for a mutual goal of agreement, which is fundamental for rational discussion. It is essential to emphasize that this kind of behavior is nothing new to humankind. For instance, the late Finnish professor of communication Osmo A. Wiio created satirical laws of Wiio, which included brainwaves such as “if a messaging can be interpreted in several ways, it will be interpreted in a way that causes the most damage.” (Wiio, 1978, p. 15) Why is that so?
The reasons why social media is such fertile ground for the culture of intentional misunderstanding are numerous. We can try to dismantle the phenomenon with the concept of boundary work. Originally the concept of boundary work was used to refer to the work that scientists did by taking distance to non-scientific work. Thomas F. Gieryn (1983, p.782) explains that boundary work consists of a set of selected attributes, which a given group uses to differentiate themselves from other ones. In the context of social media, we can all agree that we have drifted to these bubbles. I think that it is not far-fetched to say that these bubbles are, in fact, enforcing this boundary work – in more secular or everyday context, which again nourishes the promotion of the culture of intentional misinterpretation.
If we want to find more answers, we need to dig deeper into the ontology of culture of intentional misinterpretation. The concept of boundary work seems to sit right and give a fruitful perspective to the matter at hand. But the concept of boundary work itself is a symptom of the increase of the realities. Thanks to globalization – and thank God – we do not live-in homogeneous culture, where all the values, attitudes, and tastes are being shared. But when the homogeneous culture collapsed it created myriad other cultures and realities. Now it seems that the meaning of life is to argue on social media why my reality is better than yours. Hopefully, this project can further reinforce the fact that these different views or realities aren’t incommensurate, and we can find a way to interact that is more sustainable and uncomplicated. This blog text presented a few different perspectives to this complex matter of culture of intentional misunderstanding, which can be included under the much general concept of ethical challenges in digitality.
List of references:
Chapman, S. (2005). Paul Grice: Philosopher and linguist. Palgrave Macmillan UK.
Gieryn, T. F. (1983). Boundary-Work and the Demarcation of Science from Non-Science: Strains and Interests in Professional Ideologies of Scientists. American Sociological Review, 48(6), 781–795. https://doi.org/10.2307/2095325
Valo V.H. (2000). Resurrection. [Recorder by HIM]. On Razorblade Romance [MP3 file]. Berlin, Germany: BMG.
Wiio. (1978). Wiion lait – ja vähän muidenkin. Weilin+Göös.