Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Jabberwocky and the Writing on the wall -- A look at how people communicate on the net.

Two myths converge that question the efficacy of mutually intelligible communication on the net. Groups of people who share fundamental social networks or interests tend to coin words, phrases and acronyms with meanings exclusive to insiders. This premise suggests that once the individual masters the vocabulary, they can then understand and be understood by any other member of the group. Normally, the shared terminology denotes belonging and acceptance and marks the speaker as an insider. However, while the jargon may appear to be universal, the ways in which people frame the information is not. What often goes unrecognized even by long term participants or forum administrators, is that words held in common and used to convey apparently similar concepts may actually have very different meanings between individuals, and especially between subsets within and without the group. Implied meaning takes on greater importance in written communication because there is limited opportunity to quickly clarify the commonly understood definition.

A second facet is the prevailing myth that attempts to explain the high incidence of emotional response by proposing that without body language, facial expression and tone of voice, it is difficult to interpret written words in the way the author intended. Despite the presumed absence of these emotive triggers, online disputes often become far more acrimonious than in any of the participants face-to-face encounters. On the other hand, many people actually find themselves more capable of engaging in large, amazingly intimate, honest and mutually supportive social systems online than they may in their off line lives. The most likely explanationfor these complex behaviors is that people are interpreting exactly what the author intended but thought he had hidden.

People may perceive written words with more clarity than they would if they were busy modifying their impressions based on learned assumptions where distractions such as physical attributes, tone and gesture blind us to true meaning. One explanation of these phenomena is that written communications are in actuality either more honest and transparent than speech; or conversely more deceptive, and that individuals quickly learn to discern accurately between the two. The result is the initiation of trust or distrust more rapidly and intensely than what occurs in traditional face to face interaction.

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