Anyone these days can claim their own slice of internet territory, and be the authority figure of that virtual piece of land. No doubt many people reading this are either webmasters, admins, forum moderators, bloggers in their respective niches. Being a good authority figure on the web requires many talents, particularly when it comes to networking with partners, communicating with readerships and developing a community.
The grounds of this is obviously language, yet unaware to most, online communication is by nature destructive and problematic – destined to cause confusion. It’s embedded in the linguistic construction of online communicating and worth talking about if we are to become better authority figures within our community.
What’s The Problem With Online Communciation?
Online conversation, whether it be in the form of a forum post, blog post, instant message or otherwise is effectively one dimensional spoken language. That is to say; we use text on a screen to perform the function of speaking to one another, except our communication explicitly lacks the visual, aural and tonal clues of spoken language.
We are typing as we’d say and subconsciously forgetting about the required forms that make face-to-face communication so effective. Naturally, the lack of such forms place heavier emphasis on the words themselves, but at the same time, it isn’t uncommon for these missing parts (facial expression, tone etc.) to be artificially made up in the mindset of the reader while they are reading the text, creating further obscurity.
Think about it, the way in which you narrate this article to yourself intervenes with the text; my words. You are taking my words and adding your voice to them. You could quite easily colour this article in snark and sarcasm if you wish, hence changing the tone of the article and your interpretation of what it is I have to say. This is why words are important and in a sense why we are talking blind to one another, without required context to our words, it makes them less legible, and inherently the internet is full of much miscommunication.
This flaws of online communication operates differently in varying mediums both in and out of effect of the written/spoken language-esque form of writing. The online message board can quite often be a very volatile place, unless heavily mediated, due to the lack of willingness to make oneself understood. The social framework demands a style of language that abides to the community culture, which can be troublesome for newbies not versed in such a context. Many forum posters don’t post at length (due to communicative norms) to flesh out their full opinions which leave gaps open for interpretation, alongside the lack of other language features to give taste to their words.
Contrastingly, blogs are perhaps more civilized, simply because the writers write with the intention of being understood by their readers and the readers are often there to listen. A mutual understanding is present between author and readership. Furthermore the style of the article implies a certain method of response. If you read a rather articulate article, the articulation implies that well written comments would be expected in any rebuttal of the text.
Email is variable, dependent on the context of the message. Two people in an email argument may take less consideration towards the linguistic restraints imposed upon the other participant. Drawing ambiguities (perhaps) not of fault to the other author but instead from the constraints imposed upon all participants, and then using such anomalies as base for their own argument. And then it goes downhill from there.
Twitter is sometimes a complete failure to understand. The medium’s tight restraints doesn’t help either. If I were to tweet “Toasted cheese and sandwiches rock, HELL YEAH!”, how would you understand that without a prior understanding of me as a person let alone my interests in toasted cheese sandwiches? If you interpret it as actual and tweet back in confirmation (ie. ‘yeah totally’) and I respond with a negative statement, what was it that I was trying to say? A joke? Sarcasm? With such a tight word frame and lack of indicators where equivalents like exclamations and ‘smileys’ may be used, (not to mention a community willing to shout out wild statements like the prior example) tweets can be utterly confusing at times.
What Can You Do To Improve Communication?
So what have we of this confusion? I’m afraid to say that being aware of the information just provided to you is perhaps the single answer. If we are conscious of these limitations, then we can think of better ways to work around them, that is; speaking with better clarity.
Words have connotations embedded to them, it’s why language is in actuality impossible to translate. Use these word connotations to your advantage, if you are trying to politely refuse an invitation then use words that are more persuasive, that more than likely won’t be interpreted negatively or have negative connotation. We are intrinsically aware of these connotations, so use them.
More so, if something in your text is unclear then make it clear, flesh it out, justify it and make it logical to the reader, because confusion will either result in a) miscommunication b) paraphrasing your text to a better standard later on.
Another suggestion would be to utilize more ‘smileys’ when appropriate, and rely of spoken phrases that aren’t often expressed in written form. I mean, digital communication is more or less riffing on spoken communication, so why don’t we just bring the language across in its entirety? Including sound cues represented like ‘ummm’ and ‘hmm’ to express uncertainty, slang which you’d never find it books and whatever other spoken norms that take your fancy.
In a sense, this is all common sense, common sense that is often overlooked to the point that it leaves our minds. Just by being conscious of who you are talking to, the medium in which you’re speaking to them in and the implications and limits of that medium, will overall make a huge difference to the way that we exchange with our readers, clients and friends.