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(Originally posted at Shiloh Walker’s blog)

Anyone who has spent some time online knows that written communication, by its very nature, lacks many of the cues that humans take for granted when interacting with each other. Body language, tone, and the normal restraint that face to face interaction with strangers brings into physical exchanges, are all missing from online discussions. (SmartBitch Candy and Dear Author Janet/Robin have both talked about this issue before me—as usual)

This translates into a helluva lotta room for misunderstandings between people who, in fact, may be quite close in their thinking about any given issue. Lacking real world context, though, it can be very difficult to separate oneself enough from the misperceptions to get to the actual meaning that the writer was trying to convey.

While this is obviously true of books, newspapers, magazines, and any other written communication, it is tempered by two things. One, when writing a book or a news article, the writer is aware that a wide variety of people may read her words; therefore, she is likely to take pains to ensure her meaning comes across clearly to as wide a range of readers as she humanly can. Second, the readers themselves are aware of the time lapse between when the piece, book or story is written and when they are reading it, and of the lack of aural and physical cues.

In blogs and other online forums, these two circumstances seem to be forgotten most of the time. People tend to treat online interactions as real time discussions—probably because there are many cases in which they are, with people from all around the globe getting online and contributing their little bit of fuel to the fire, around the clock. Add to this the fact that a great many people enthusiastically posting away may not have the greatest ability to express themselves clearly when speaking, let alone in writing.

Of course, over time, people online get to know and understand each other without further cues—read a particular blog for a long enough period of time, and you’ll automatically and pretty accurately translate most of the language (and tone) into what the writer actually wants to say, but which may come across very differently to someone who just landed there. It’s inevitable, it would seem, and will alienate many potential readers.

Some people don’t really care about alienating the occasional casual visitor—or even a regular visitor—because hey, that is their space *waving at Karen* I can say that while I admire that stance, particularly when they have the stones to stand by what they have said (no deleting to rewrite history, and being ready to apologize when warranted) I belong to a different group.

We are the ones who will write something and let it sit for one or two days before posting. We will read it again, once we have cooled down, and try to eliminate excessive emotion in favor of greater clarity of meaning. We will avoid using inflammatory language—even if it conveys our innermost feelings on a given topic—in order to encourage a wider audience to think about that same issue.

You may call me and those like me the wimpy ones (I prefer to think of myself as someone striving for tact and diplomacy, but hey, it’s fine either way).

See, I often will read something somewhere and will want to jump in, share my opinion, debate and argue and enjoy a nice heated long discussion—that’s how I am with friends and family. But after ten years online and lurking on many forums and message boards and blogs and… well, witnessing many incidents of needless flaming, I now operate under the assumption (yes, I know I know) that the clearer I am when I post something online, the better my chances of actually getting the point across. It is not so much to avoid the flaming—which is impossible to do anyway—as it is out of a desire to communicate. I don’t want to toss things out there simply to create a reaction, I want to elicit thought. I want the responses to have meaning beyond a knee jerk reaction.

(image courtesy of xkcd)


  • I found myself nodding to a lot of things in this post so am going to post (mostly in agreement). I enjoy lurking and tend not to post unless a)I know the poster b)feel really passionately about a particular subject or c)have additional information to add. Very often, I feel what I know doesn’t even need to be said as other people will be able to say it much better.
    In terms of posting, I tend to just post without much review for my own stuff. When I post replies though, I tend to think about it over and over again.

    I don’t want to toss things out there simply to create a reaction, I want to elicit thought. I want the responses to have meaning beyond a knee jerk reaction.

    Thank you for stating this. Really, thank you. It’s what I’ve been feeling, but unable to state and am trying to impliment (with very little success).

    Now I need to submit comment before I think too much and delete everything. >_<


  • I’d say this is where emoticons come in handy, yet I’m more often annoyed and frustrated by people who overuse emoticons than I am by someone who may have simply misspoken on their end or been misinterpreted from mine. (Or would that be mistyped and misread?)


  • Oh, man, this issue has hung me up, like, forevah!

    I eventually got so frustrated, I blogged about it at MySpace (August 31, 2007: “The Danger of Humor”). Humor is especially difficult to convey, because there are so many types and shades…and not enough subtle emoticons!


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