Monday, March 7, 2011

Online Body Language

Times have changed.  We interact with people via e-mail and internet more than ever before.  Nothing new, here, but how about body language?

When we talk to someone face to face, we can easily gauge whether the person is interested, offended, or bored to death.  The tone of voice, the facial expression, even a pause in the conversation hints us about how someone is feeling.

We don't have any of these clues when we interact on the internet, but a lot can be express through the written word, in many other ways.  We use symbols and expressions to convey our moods, such as *roll eyes*, Hahaha!, :), :'(, and so on.  The timeliness of reply also gives a hint on how interested the other person is.

Sometimes, these clues can be misleading.

For example, if I send an e-mail expressing my thoughts, and the person doesn't reply for three days, I tend to speculate.  Maybe she's very busy, or going through some struggle and doesn't feel like talking right now.  Or maybe my e-mail made her mad.  Maybe she thinks my ideas were so silly she won't even bother responding.  *gasp* Maybe I offended her in some ways.  Most of the time, I'm wrong.  It has nothing to do with me.

Sometimes, someone responds with "LOL" but I know they're not actually laughing.  They might even be close to tears.  It's just something you say when you can't think of anything else, at times.  We can hide our real mood very easily when interacting online.

Another thing that happened to me a few times is interpreting someone's words differently than how they were intended.  For example, someone replied to my views on a delicate subject with, "Oh, I see."  I thought the person was offended by what I said and meant, "Oh, I see what you're like, now."  I was so wrong.  It was nothing like that.

My point?  It's important to be honest and straight forward when dealing with each other online, and we should not assume someone else's intentions without verifying with them.

I've witnessed many misunderstandings based on someone not replying, or even worse, replying to everybody except one. Was it intentional?  I did that once, replying to two people who reviewed my chapters and forgetting to reply to one I had received earlier.  I'm glad she asked me about it, and I explained I thought I had responded but didn't.  An honest mistake.  How would she have known if she hadn't asked me?

I've seen someone being blocked from following an agent on Twitter.  She was crushed!  She thought maybe that agent had something personal against her.  Luckily, she asked the agent (politely) why she had been blocked.  It was a Twitter glitch!  If she didn't ask, she would have stayed under the impression that the agent really didn't like her, for some reason.  How sad is that!

The moral of this story?  Relax!  Don't take it personally if someone doesn't reply.  If something is not clear, just ask.  Most people aren't mean to each other intentionally.  In fact, I found more friendly people online than I ever thought possible.  Be aware of the limitations of the written words.  And smile! It shows in your writing, somehow.  :-)


Ralene said...

Great post, Annie! It's very true the many misunderstandings that can arise through the written word. I do think, even when we're replying to someone, we need to take the time to be more clear in our response to avoid the chances of giving the wrong impression.

Emailman said...

Great post, Annie :) I'd better be careful what I write in this comment, I don't want you take it the wrong way :D

Annie McMahon said...

True, Ralene. Sometimes we say something as a joke and it's taken literally. Or vice versa. LOL But no need to go crazy and explain everything either.

Haha! Kurt, I know you too well.

Jess said...

This reminds me of the rampant evil known as teenage texting--I can't even begin to tell you the drama my 15-year-old has gone through/created because of misinterpretation of texts. *shakes head* Crazy stuff that we adults also deal with :)

Anonymous said...

Awesome post.

At times I think I'm being ignored intentionally if someone doesn't write me back. Meanwhile, the person is out of town or my email didn't even reach them.

Annie McMahon said...

Jess, I can only imagine! We get worked up over these things sometimes, and we're adults.

Medeia, exactly my point. I used to think that too, but I've calmed down now. I know there's usually a reason why someone doesn't reply, and that reason has nothing to do with me, most of the time. :)

Louisa said...

now i'm starting to wonder if i forgot to thank you for a review or said something bad. eek!

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