Virtual Voice: The Power of Online Communication
A Textual Voice
The Internet is a funny thing really; it allows disembodied personas to mix openly, free of the limitations of flesh, at least within a certain boundary.
Textual communication, as exhibited by chat rooms, MUDs, graphic social VRs, and MMOs, is itself a form of voice, a virtual voice. There are many who cannot speak properly, through the many disabilities which can affect voice: ME which wastes muscles away; cerebral palsy, which limits fine motor control; Parkinson's, which plays with signals from the brain to the body, or simple paralysis. These are just a sampling, there are many more which can affect the voice, not forgetting strokes and embolisms. There are others whose hearing is degraded or missing itself, preventing them from fully hearing or hearing at all, the audible comments of others, yet they have much to contribute themselves, to any discussion.
Text is also ideal for those whose voices are wrong for who they feel they are. Sufferers of body dyamorphis disorder, a condition in which the individual loathes and detests their physical shell, is one such where an otherwise functional voice might depress the speaker when they hear it themselves. Another would be transgendered, or intergendered individuals, who may feel the same depression from a different root source - the sound of their voice is wrong for who they are. In both cases, and in more besides, textual communication offers a way to communicate, picturing the voice they would love to have, in their heads, and transcribing it to the screen. A way of boosting confidence and self-esteem when talking to others.
For all the above, and many more besides, communication through text serves as an ideal substitute for the voice box: it creates a medium where all may communicate effectively, albeit often at speeds below that of spoken conversation for the perfectly healthy or 'average person'.
At the start of this article, we mentioned online was "free of the limitations of flesh, at least within a certain boundary". This is where that boundary roars it's ugly head: the ability of the person to physically deal with the interfaces between theit body and the VR: keyboard, mouse, touchscreen, tracker ball, 3D pointer, HMD, monitor, whatever.
A disabled or handicapped individual is likely to be slower than a person with a fully functional form, to use the same interface devices. A person suffering an advanced muscle degenerative disease is going to struggle to move their fingers to use a keyboard to type with anything approaching normal speeds. A person with a muscle control issue is going to produce a lot of typos - mistakes in typing - and also, be quite slow.
Even with those in full control of muscle and co-ordination, there is going to be a huge speed difference between those who touch-type and those who 'peek and poke'. Those who touch-type roam their fingers over the keys without looking, knowing habitually where each is. Those who 'peek and poke' look at the keyboard first, then move their fingers whilst watching them, onto the keys for each letter.
This speed differentiation often translates into a multi-class society in textual speech, as often those who type the fastest tend to have less patience and consideration for those who type less swiftly, and the slowest typers tend to end up left behind in the cold. Conversations move on without letting them get a word in edgewise, often pushing the slowest typers to form sub-communities and isolate themselves, even online.
Creating Communications Equality
Whilst keyboard-mediated textual chat is certainly a lifeline for those who would like to be on a level playing field with the majority, it is clear that there are still issues causing divides between people who can type faster than most can audibly talk, and those who can barely type at all, right down to typing with movements of their eyes.