Friday, October 25, 2013

They're Only Words, Right?

Have you heard what you read like?

The great thing about e-mail, texting and other forms of digital communication (like in chat rooms or forums) is that it's quick and convenient.

The not so great thing? It can leave too much open for conjecture.

There is no tone. There is no facial expression. There's no inflection. And that can lead to hurt feelings.

Hence emoticons---those little faces that are there to help the text along, with smileys, frowns, winks, etc.

Facebook is becoming less of a social media site and more of a public forum for debate on everything from sports to politics to what kind of dish detergent to use.

In the heat of the Tigers playoff run, I have engaged in many a discussion on Facebook about baseball and the team, and what is needed going forward, etc. Some of the discussions have gotten a little heated.

But the heat was turned up because some comments, sans emoticons or any other buffers, read pretty cold and terse.

Email can be like that too.

Even the lack of an exclamation point can make a big difference.

To wit: Look at these two ways of writing the same words. Thanks a lot. Thanks a lot!

The former can be construed as sarcastic or written by someone in a huff. The latter just "sounds" more friendly.

I know some folks, and I'm sure you do, too, who don't use punctuation, emoticons or words in parentheses or between asterisks (like *this*), and thus their communique can read a little stand off-ish or acerbic.

Once things are taken the wrong way, it sometimes takes a whole lot to bring the ship back from the yard.

You can spend comment after comment, email after email, trying to reel the ill will in, when an email or comment or text is taken the wrong way.

I remember the late, great comedian Greg Giraldo mocking the overuse of mobile phones for texting.

Mimicking the frantic flying of fingers and thumbs of the texter, Giraldo said, "Hmmm...if only there was some device I could use to actually talk to this person, instead of this primitive typing machine."

I admit, I use email and texting quite a bit---but mainly because I hate the phone, as a rule.

Once I get going on the phone, it's hard for me to stop---but I mainly only talk to my mother on the thing. Frequent calls to Mrs. Eno or our daughter don't count; those are brief and inconsequential.

I do my weekly sports podcast on the phone, but that's not really a phone call, per se. I don't do Skype!

But it's getting going on the phone, i.e. placing a call, where I get stuck.

I'd much rather fire off an email or a text.



My line of thinking also includes this: phone calls can be forgotten about or their content remembered incorrectly. Emails and texts are imprints that can be called upon later. Call it the lawyer in me.

We are, as a society, using our phones less and less for actual phone calls. If we're not texting, we're using apps or watching videos or playing games on our mobile devices. Human conversation is being gradually reduced to perfunctory check ins with spouses, kids and colleagues.

Who has lengthy, in-depth phone conversations anymore?

So we rely more and more on the written word---often times "naked", without any punctuation or emoticons to buffer it.

And the written word, minus help, doesn't always convey the emotion or tone in which it was intended.

Gives a whole new meaning to "crossword puzzle." Like, how about, "cross word puzzle"?

See what I did there?


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