Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Colloquium: Tone and Electronic Communication-- Frustrated Reader Weighs In


We just received the following comments from frustrated reader Phillip Olsson. Olsson decided to kill two birds with one stone, embedding a scathing critique of IECW's graphics department in his remarks. Our frustrated friend deployed the following case study in order to shed some light on the usage of "caps lock" in electronic communication:

Example 1: PLEASE MAKE THE CAPTIONS ON PICTURES MORE READABLE!

I think the tone of this is pretty obvious. This IECW reader is clearly frustrated by not being able to read the captions included on IECW photos. We know this for two reasons. First, there is the grammatical structure itself: the sentence is written as a command. But a command in and of itself does not necessarily express frustration. For example, if the reader had simply written, "Please make the captions on pictures more readable!" this comes across not so much as a command voiced out of frustration, but as a polite suggestion. This is especially so when the command is prefaced with "please." Building on the original sentence itself, however, is the fact that the command is spelled out in "caps." Because we know that the use of caps signifies that an electronic communicator is shouting, we can easily imagine the reader blurting out the command. There is a pronounced lack of nuance. We picture the reader, nose only inches from his MacBook, sitting at his carrel in the third floor of the law library, squinting desperately as he attempts to decipher what could either be a "q" or a "g," it's impossible to say, who uses yellow type in a caption anyway? Seriously, who does this?

Example 2: Could you make the captions on your pictures a little less readable?

This reader is well versed in the subtle art of sarcasm. Bravo! Although some people a little less experienced in the craft might assume that this is no more than an honest request, when we look at the captions on IECW -and see just how utterly unreadable they are- we quickly realize this reader is not really desirous of what he ostensibly asks for. Clearly, this reader, again, sitting with his nose only inches away from his MacBook, in his carrel, number 3-79 on the third floor of the library, is frustrated.

HOPE THIS HELPS!

We will continuing to publish contributions to our colloquim on tone and electronic communication as we receive them.

Colloquium: Tone & Electronic Communication--Let's Keep the Ball Rolling!


In the spirit of a true colloquium, Peter and I would like to encourage all of our readers to submit their thoughts on “tone” in electronic communication. Feel free to dispute any opinions already expressed, share a personal experience of miscommunication, or your own ideas for possible solutions to the ambiguous tone debacle. Email us at iecwblog@gmail.com, leave a comment on our blog, or contact us through your preferred method of communication, electronic or not. We look forward to keeping this colloquium going!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Colloquium: Tone and Electronic Communication


This week, we wanted to convene a small panel discussion in response to recent developments in the comments to our previous posts. Some of our readers experienced difficulty interpreting each other's tones. As such, we invited avid reader and internet user Michael "Mikey" Kapinus to join us in remarking on this issue.

Written electronic communication poses a unique risk in that the person or people you are communicating with may not be able to detect nuances that are obvious in a face-to-face conversation. To elucidate the problems associated with this phenomenon, we have three topics today. First, blog author Maggie Paino will discuss the failure of fonts to effectively communicate tone. Peter Giordano will then comment on "tone tags", a novel system for communicating tone in writing. Finally, our special guest Michael "Mikey" Kapinus will respond specifically to some of the issues raised by our readers in their comments, partly by comparing caveats applicable to the European linguistic tradition with Ethiopic grammatical devices.


The Failure of Fonts


The option of fonts is one that is both abused and taken for granted. Fonts can be selected by an instant message user to individualize her text and allow herself to shine through the doldrums of text boxes, or to allow an individual to enhance an otherwise everyday email so that it expresses the livelihood of her e-vite. Many individuals fall victim to the apathy of default fonts and do not take advantage of the many possibilities available to provide a tone indicative of that trying to be portrayed by the electronic communicator.

Perhaps fonts could contribute to the resolution of evasive tone in electronic communication? Or, perhaps they only hinder any headway made in the war against ambiguous tone? In determining whether fonts achieve the former or the latter, I think that it is important to recognize the difference between “tone” and “personality.” “Personality” is one’s personal character, what makes that individual “them.” “Tone”, on the other hand, is emitted by an individual to portray a particular mood or emotion at a given time.

One can express their personality through a font easily. For example, an individual who uses “Papyrus” is obviously trying to convey a different personality than someone who uses “Zapfino” or “Stencil.” But, one cannot express her tone through the modification of a font. For instance, if I were to ask, “Would you like to meet me after work so that we can talk about the status of our relationship?” the tone of your response consisting of “Sure. I’m so excited!” formatted in “Comic Sans” would be just as ambiguous as “Sure. I’m so excited!” formatted in “Verdana.” Either could be characterized as genuine, sarcastic, solemn, or flip. Maybe someday the use of fonts will develop and progress to the point where they can be applied to the denotation of tone, and resolve all of these interpersonal electronic fiascos.



Tone tags: Wave of the Future

When I was ruminating on the difficulty of conveying tone electronically, it occurred to me that people might find it useful to literally annotate their writing with indications of their tone. Take this hypothetical passage from an e-mail as an example:

*salutory* Hey Maggie!

*genuine* I'm so excited for our upcoming trip. Who would have thought that there was a historic produce market with an enormous, cement peach on top of it just 25 miles outside of town? *sarcastic* I'm totally enamored with the prospect that Michael "Mikey" Kapinus might join us... seeing how he was just sooo good in the car when we took our last trip. *genuine* Well, I'm looking forward to seeing you at the Soma Coffeehouse later. Have a good day!

Pete

When I came up with this idea, I thought I was probing an experimental boundary in electronic communication. Much to my surprise, when I related the story to computer engineer Andres Bastidas, he informed me that tone tags were already in use at his office:

Andres: Actually, when communicating with Jason, we do that. Especially when talking with an accent or a specific tone that you want to convey

Pete: No way!
Andres: *span class="limey"* top of the morning */span*

He later gave me another example.

Andres: *span style="strong"*When's this MS Paint blog going to launch?*/span*

It seems that computer engineers and other computer professionals are, as we might expect, ahead of the curve on this one. It remains yet to be seen if the rest of us will ever catch up.


Kapinus Drops By

In the comments to a recent post, cyber-guru Robert Pondiscio remarked:

"I'm laughing as well. And I think the hosts of this blog are laughing too. At us."

In response, Jim Stephens opined:

"People write web logs; they don't 'host' them."

Pondiscio stood his ground on his language, characterizing his own, delicious role as a blog "host" as follows:

"I 'host' an active education blog... I'm self-consciously trying to put out an interesting and appetizing mental buffet."

Expert commentator Michael "Mikey" Kapinus had this to say on the issue:

I have to say that I mostly stand with Robert Pondiscio on this one. I think "host" is definitely appropriate for the founder(s) and operator(s)of a blog. Just by the mere fact that there is a comment section, a blog opens up the possibility of dialogue between many people. The "host" of the blog is the provider AND essentially may act as something of a moderator if needed (when things inevitably get out of hand). I feel that this blog in particular has to act as somewhat of a forum since the nature of interpersonal electronic communication is still evolving and changing.

Jim Stephens was also critical of what he perceived of as a lack of appreciation for sarcasm on Robert Pondiscio's part. Exhibiting some sarcasm himself, he said:

"We now know that sarcasm is A-OK and fun for everyone!"

Pondiscio responded thusly:

" My sarcasm, if you want to call it that, was a signal that I'm in on the joke and not insulted, per your point."

Our very special guest, Michael "Mikey" Kapinus, offered some insight into the nature of sarcasm on the internet:

I also believe that sarcasm is absolutely not always "humorous and harmless" or "A-OK and fun for everyone". While I love the use of sarcasm in a humorous context, most definitions of sarcasm include bitter, cutting, and taunting. This is the whole reason why there is often trouble in interpersonal electronic communication: because sarcasm, along with other rhetorical devices, is often conveyed through tone, which is difficult to relate over the internet. Devices such as quotations, emoticons(winking, tongue out, frowning) and abbreviated code (LOL) help with this conveyance of tone, but are not foolproof. In certain Ethiopic languages, sarcasm is indicated with a sarcasm mark, a character that looks like a backwards question mark at the end of a sentence. Maybe English needs this. I fear that we may never see the ability to communicate as clearly over electronic means as we do with vocal communication. Call me "old-fashioned." : - P All modes of communication have their downfalls. We can't read minds...yet.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Recent Silence and Upcoming Post


Readers: We would like to extend our most sincere apologies for the recent lapse in our weekly posting schedule. Extenuating circumstances rendered last week's regular update impracticable. Pete Giordano was incapacitated by illness. Simultaneously, fellow editor Maggie Paino has been inundated with analog interpersonal commitments.

Please look forward to our upcoming colloquium about tone and electronic communication. Our hope is that the discussion will provide some perspective on the kind of "interpersonal electronic miscommunication" that was illustrated in recent reader comments.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Pondiscio to Salzman: We Definitely Nailed It



Readers:
Undisputed net vet Robert Pondiscio has now also commented on our repost from he and Marian Salzman's definitive text, The Ultimate On-line Homework Helper. What's more, he actually used our blog to communicate electronically... with Marian!

Robert Pondiscio said...

Hi Marian!

Were you aware we'd written a "definitive" text? Me neither!

I think your post is spot-on. These rules hold up because while technology changes, people don't.

Cheers,
Robert

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Salzman to IECW: We Nailed It



Readers:
IECW has finally garnered the recognition that it deserves. Marion Salzman has personally commented on our repost of her canonical text on netiquette. In case you missed it, the post was as follows:

Marion Salzman said... It's great to re-read this 13 years later and realize how right we actually got it, in some of the basic human ways. Cyberspace is a parallel universe and there is genuine community online. Neighbors helping neighbors still applies.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Passive Edge


We recently received the following letter from a loyal reader:

I have a long-distance acquaintance who once was a friend. Not a very close friend, mind you, but this person (let's use the name "Pat") seems to have the impression that we were much closer than we were. It's a strange imbalance. After a ridiculous incident of "chat ambush" a while ago, I was forced to block Pat from my IM service of choice. At this point, I wish to defriend Pat on my social network. I do feel that an email explaining this is in order, but I do not feel that Pat warrants a telephonic or face to face explanation. Is there an accepted protocol for "breaking up" with a friend over email and severing all electronic contacts?
Thank you,
LOYAL READER

We thought that our loyal reader's inquiry occasioned a general discussion about scaling back online relationships. As such, Maggie will offer an enlightening commentary on removing friends from your social networks. Pete will follow her discussion with some brief remarks about instant messaging.

Defriending on Social Networks

Facebook, myspace, and other social networks allow you to deny a friendship request without the individual knowing that you left them off of a list of 588 other people you hardly know. There is also the option of "defriending" someone that you have previously accepted as a friend after a change of heart. Once again, the individual will not be notified that you no longer want to be friends with them. Indeed, with the click of a mouse, you can refresh your cache and dump your friend in the trash bin.

Sometimes you'll come across an obsessive e-friend. These individuals check their friend counts on a consistent basis, and keep tabs on every status update. If you de-friend one of these people, it might not go unnoticed. In such a case, they'll often attempt to re-friend you, putting the ball back in your court. Are you going to make the same mistake you did last round? The answer must be no.

If such a (former) friend sends you a message asking why you haven't re-friended them, just say something along the lines of "Oh, I don't really check that site anymore." One novel method that I have recently used in order to de-friend an individual is to take up Burger King on its "Whopper Sacrifice" deal. This facebook application allows you to remove 10 of your friends in exchange for a free hamburger sandwich. While the individual does receive a notice that they have been deleted so that you could get a whopper, it makes the person laugh, and you can say something like, "hey, I just wanted a whopper. Times are tough. I figured you wouldn't mind because we're such good friends." This provides that passive edge that you're looking for in an e-friend break up. Since you've had a jocular exchange about a free hamburger, you can go along your way without feeling guilt-ridden.

Disengaging on Instant Messenger

In his e-mail, our loyal reader mentioned that he was overwhelmed by instant messages from his distant acquaintance. Managing one's instant messaging contacts is fraught with difficult judgment calls; on one hand, restricting your availability to certain people can leave casual friends feeling hurt. On the other, having too many contacts can result in a deluge of unwanted conversation.

Fortunately, there are several techniques by which one can limit communication with excessively chatty acquaintances. One method is mentioned in our loyal reader's e-mail. "Blocking" a contact will leave them unaware of your online presence. Your acquaintance will not be notified that you have blocked them. However, this approach runs the risk that your acquaintance might grow suspicious of the sudden drop-off in your online availability. If you don't have your wits about you, an unexpected confrontation along the lines of "why are you never online anymore?" could leave you feeling awkward and embarrassed.

A preferable technique used by many net vets makes use of your instant messaging program's "invisibility" function. Most modern chat programs allow the user to appear offline, despite their actual availability. By making yourself invisible, you can chat with only the contacts you initiate dialogue with. A politique regimen of frequent invisibility, peppered by occasional full availability, will allow you to maintain your close online relationships without offending those to whom you often deceptively appear offline; much like a stealthy cat who makes himself prominent only at mealtime.

RSS Subscription



I received the following curt email from an interested, but sporadic, reader:


As an interested, but sporadic, reader of IECW, I have a special request to make. In this "day and age", there is an over-abundance of electronically available "items of interest" , making it nearly impossible to frequently visit, or even bookmark, the over one million websites I visit daily.

RSS bitches!


Despite the foul language, I felt compelled to add an RSS subscription link, which is now located at the bottom of the right sidebar. As always, your feedback is appreciated; a substantive post addressing one of your letters should be up later tonight.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Breaking: Kanye West Netiquette Violation


Avid reader David Orr was perusing a web log, or "blog", recently, and found a major netiquette violation by a prominent blogger. The message reproduced below was submitted to the popular Perez Hilton Blog by Mr. Kanye West, a well-known internet personality. In his e-mail to us, David rightly bemoaned Mr. West's unfamiliarity with Salzman and Pondiscio's classic rules of netiquette.

"THIS IS MY LAST DAY IN PARIS AND IT'S BEEN CRAZY. I'VE MET SO MANY DOPE PEOPLE. I FEEL SO INSPIRED BY THE TRIP… I'VE BEEN THINKING OF RAPS, BEATS, CLOTHES, VIDEOS ,STAGE DESIGNS AND PHILOSOPHIES … I ALWAYS FEEL MY BEST WORK IS MY NEXT WORK… I'VE MADE SOME GOOD CHOICES AND SOME MISTAKES… I'VE BEEN LOVED AND HATED…. I'VE BEEN HAILED AND RIDICULED… I'VE BEEN INVITED TO SHOWS AND AS USUAL ASKED NOT TO COME… I'VE BEEN ATTACKED FOR BEING ME… FOR BEING BRIGHT RED IN A GREY WORLD…. I AM NUCLEAR ENERGY… WHEN ENCAPSULATED IN AN IDEA OR BOX LIKE A STAGE OR SHOE DESIGN I CREATE MAGIC… WHEN LEFT FREE SOMETIMES I BURN THINGS… IT'S THE NATURE OF A TRUE ARTIST… I AM NOT PERFECT AND I WILL NEVER BE WHAT I WAS TAUGHT MY WHOLE LIFE AND THAT WAS TO BE "CHRIST LIKE"… I'M FINE WITH JUST BEING THE BEST ME! I ACCEPT AND TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR MY MISTAKES AND LEARN FROM THEM. I WILL NEVER ATTACK NEGATIVE PEOPLE AND THEIR ENERGY…I FORGIVE THEM FOR THEY DON'T THINK FOR THEMSELVES BUT MERELY BASE THEIR OPINIONS ON WHAT THEY WERE TAUGHT. LIFE IS A GAME! IF EVERYONE UNDERSTOOD WHAT I WAS DOING WHEN I WAS DOING IT THERE WOULD BE NO CHALLENGE THEREFORE NO GAME. IT IS THE CRACK IN THE WALL THAT ALLOWS LIGHT TO SHINE THROUGH… SOOO THANK YOU SENSATIONAL NEWS REPORTERS … THANK YOU GOSSIP SITES… THANK YOU BARBER SHOPS… THANK YOU TO ANYONE WHO THRIVES ON THE DOWNFALL OF OTHERS FOR I WILL NOT FALL!!! YOUR PESSIMISM IS MY POWER… YOUR PRESUMPTIONS LEAD TO MY REDEMPTIONS … I DON'T LIKE THE OBVIOUS… I LIKE THE TENSION… I LIVE FOR THE FIGHT… I AM A SOLDIER OF FREE THOUGHT IN A CLOSED MINDED WORLD AND I AM READY FOR WAR… I HAVE LOST EVERYTHING SO I AM FEARLESS … YOU OBVIOUSLY DON'T KNOW WHO YOU'RE UP AGAINST… I WILL SPARK A GENERATION OF THINKERS WHO WILL QUESTION TRADITIONAL THOUGHT UNTIL THEY FIND THE ABSOLUTE TRUTH. THANK YOU FOR GIVING ME SOMEONE TO PROVE WRONG AS I HAVE DONE FOR MY ENTIRE LIFE… YOU FEEL THE WORLD WILL NEVER CHANGE.. YOU FEEL MISERY IS THE ONLY COMPANY… AND I AM HERE TO PROVE YOU ALL WRONG… (I'LL GIVE THE SECRET TO MY DEMISE FOR ALL THAT WISH I WOULD JUST DROP DEAD…. ACCEPTANCE!!… IF YOU COULD FINISH MY SENTENCES THERE WOULD BE NO REASON TO START THEM. ) THANK YOU PARIS ONCE AGAIN FOR ALLOWING ME ACCESS TO THE GREATEST ARTISTS AND DESIGNERS THIS EARTH HAS TO OFFER… THANK YOU FOR THE INVITATION BECAUSE GENIUS LOVES COMPANY"

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Salzman and Pondiscio on "Netiquette"




Attention Net vets:
I was recently reviewing Marion Salzman and Robert Pondiscio's definitive text,
The Ultimate On-Line Homework Helper (1996), when I stumbled upon a classic passage. Electronic Communication veterans are sure to remember the duo's remarkable segment on "Road Rules and Netiquette." I found the chapter to be so enlightening as to justify reproduction below, with only slight abridgement.


If you are new to cyberspace, there are a few commonsense rules of the road you need to know. There are also some informal rules about how to behave online, known as "netiquette," short for "Internet etiquette."

Following the rules of the road is important. That's because the so-called information superhighway isn't really a highway at all. As we've discussed, it's really more like a city-- several cities. Several big crowded cities. Several big crowded cities where people buzz around and bump into one another a lot. That means there are bound to be people stepping on one another's toes. Or worse. People get into arguments in the real world, often accompanied by nasty language and colorful hand gestures. And the same is sometimes true in cyberspace. Well, maybe not the hand gestures.

As long as people have opinions and sensitivities, there will be disagreements. But there are a few commonly agreed upon standards of behavior online that make it a little easier for everyone to get along together. These rules are known as netiquette. Here are a few basic dos and don'ts to remember.

Don't: Use foul language. Swearing in a chat room or on a message board is rude, crude, and a surefire way to lose your online account.

Don't: Type in ALL CAPS. This is one of the most common newbie mistakes. Typing online with your caps lock key down is considered SHOUTING online.

Do: Remember People's Feelings. It's sometimes easy to forget that there's a real person typing at you on your screen. If you find yourself in a disagreement with someone online, do it with courtesy and respect for their feelings.

Do: Be Helpful. One of the things that makes being online special is what some Net vets call "virtual community." That means neighbors help neighbors. If you meet someone online who has questions and you know the answers, help him or her out. That way, they'll be more likely to help you when you need it. Just remember the old saying: What goes around comes around.

Don't: Be a jerk. This should be the easiest one to remember. Despite the rules of netiquette, there are too many people online who are rude, crude, dominate message boards and chat rooms, and generally make life unpleasant for everyone around them. Don't be one of them.