Old 12-14-2009, 06:53 AM   #1
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Default Tone and internet writing

What I'm doing here is giving you my experience and ask you to respond by comparing your own experiences and adding your own insights.

When I was an angsty teen I often thought that everyone on the internet was extremely hostile to me. Now that I'm a lot older and have taken classes that require you to interpret text, the way people respond to text online has fascinated me.

I've realized, for example, that part of the reason I felt so compelled to argue with people all the time is because I thought they were trying to argue with me, and the reason I saw people as so hostile was because I was hostile at that time. I've met timid people in-person who online struck me as enormous assholes. Contrarily, I've met people who were super-extroverted but seemed boring online.

Part of this is in the way I viewed grammar and punctuation. When I was in middle school, I imagined a very stuck-up voice in my head when I read posts typed with impeccable grammar and colorful diction. It could be that you're reading this posts with that very same voice. Right now, though, this is just how I sound--I'm typing as I would talk if I had very attentive listeners who allowed me to go uninterrupted.

As an example, sometimes if I end a sentence without punctuation it sounds inherently more casual, for example:


Whereas if I use a period, it might sharper and more forceful:


Capitalization would also make a difference. If a post is properly capitalized, I'll project; I tend to read it with my chest voice or what has been called my "important person voice."

However, if it's in lowercase it sounds weak; it'll be all from the head voice. Lowercase, informal posts seem inherently more mellow to me, and that informality coupled with an aggressive message always gives me the impression of an annoying and sneering passive-aggressive attitude that drives me up the wall. I always imagine a very feminine hipster-type person that never engages eye contact when I read this style of writing.

example: "yeah i doubt anyone thinks that go away."

I could write a lot more about this, but that's the gist.

The point in giving you these interpretations is because obviously interpretations are not always accurate, and could be inaccurate a lot of the time. This would mean that there could be (and probably are) a bunch of people at any given time totally missing the attitude another person has toward them because all they have to go on is their own assumption of what the other person is like.

Questions to consider:

What do you think about this? Have you ever thought about how your tone could be read? Has this caused problems for you before? Do you think this is the reason for a lot of unnecessary arguments? How do you normally interpret tone?
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Old 12-14-2009, 10:01 AM   #2
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Default Re: Tone and internet writing

Online tone is hard to associate with how the person is trying to convey his message. There's such a wide variety of possible tones and meanings that differ from person to person it's nearly impossible to have one definite mood per style. This tone you speak of is usually the reason people start arguments on the internet.

I could simply write


...and I would pass as an asshole to you who thinks he's more right than you are, when in fact I may simply be suggesting there's an alternative answer without being hostile to you.

I'm certain people wouldn't think of me the same if they saw videos of me :http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l2o7xJrG8UA

My serious tone is simply no longer intimidating because of such shenanigans. I guess it all comes down to either knowing the person well irl or simply not taking the internet so seriously. It's so easy to interpret things wrong online and even easier to argue. I'm certain if the same things were said irl, Mr.internet tough guy wouldn't be so willing to argue anymore.

Last edited by kommisar; 12-14-2009 at 10:03 AM..
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Old 12-14-2009, 11:34 AM   #3
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Default Re: Tone and internet writing

I actually use some of the same interpretations you've made. When I'm trying to make intelligent discussion, I'll use proper capitalization/grammar/etc., but it still won't be proper written English because I'll still use slang and contractions and what not to make it more informal and more like how I actually talk. But sometimes, I will use lowercase when it's either very informal or I'm using fragmentary English in some way, or if I'm trying to portray the passive-aggressive sarcasm like you hate. A lot of my tone/humor IRL is based on my facial expressions and inflections, so to convert that to the internet I have to textually represent it in some way.

I find it interesting the way I have a slightly different voice whenever I'm writing a paper for a class than how I speak online. I mean, when I write a paper, it's still my voice; I be sure to not write anything that sounds weird spoken or that is too convoluted, because that's just not me. A lot of people write in some over-the-top formal voice and it just sounds stilted when you read it aloud. Yet on the internet, you basically are speaking through your text, and so it has to come across (to people you've never met) how you would say it if you were face to face with them.
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Old 12-14-2009, 11:44 AM   #4
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Default Re: Tone and internet writing

This has happened to me a lot, whether it be on an instant messenger, or on a forum. Many times after I send an IM or post a thread, I quickly read what I have said to see if it looked hostile or something. If it did, then I would quickly say "I didn't mean it that way", or something along those lines. I have gotten in a bit of a pickle at one point where I had said something in an IM, and the person completely went off on me. Now she doesn't talk to me anymore. I think punctuation used in online messenging can cause a lot of problems. If you don't add a "lol" or "rofl" at the end of each comment, people will think you're being mean or very serious, which happens in my case many times. I've been called an "asshole" many many times because of my punctuation, and it made m seem like I was being a dick, which I wasn't intending. And I can see where the other person is coming from when they call me an asshole and such, but they have to learn to read tone as well, they just assume everyone is a dick if they don't put a "lol" or "lmfao" at the end of each sentence.
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Old 12-14-2009, 04:24 PM   #5
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Default Re: Tone and internet writing

This is a very relevant topic to the Internet as a whole. Thank you for sparking worthy interest.

In a world where the primary form of communication is text, things like tone, body language, volume, emphasis, ect... are all much more difficult to convey. Though some IM applications, chat rooms, and forums give you the ability to add some more color to your otherwise black on white words. Giving people things like italics, bold, and adjustable font size to work with. Some people can communicate with text just as well as talking with them face to face.

In most cases, I will judge the quality of someones opinion, argument, statement, whatever, based on the overall quality of their writing. For example, I'm reading user reviews on a movie. Lets say that 8 out of 10 people voted positive and the other 2 negative. If the 8 people who voted positive write like a typical basement dwelling pre-teen who clearly has no memory of what proper english looked like, while the two people who voted negative wrote out what looks and reads like an obviously thought out, well formed, proper english using review. I'm going to think the movie was bad.

That was a pretty stupid and pointless example, but you get the picture. Taking time and using proper english in the internet will get the favor of the people who matter, the intelligent users. At the same time, no one should expect anyone to have absolutely perfect english, especally in IM and chat room settings.
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