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Hi, BTW: the Net as our virtual office

You chat via something like Microsoft Messenger, or Skype. You talk about stuff, then you go. You don’t say goodbye. You come back on-line, you see a friend and you ask a question, followed with: “Hi, BTW!”

This happened for the umpteenth time on Thursday while IM’ing with David Bradley over at Significant Figures, and he made the observation that with the help of IM (Instant Messaging), the Net’s become this huge virtual office where we say neither hello nor goodbye anymore.

We skip the pleasantries and go straight to the question or the dialogue. It’s as if we’re still on dial-up and every byte counts.

We engage in conversation using the social rules as mandated by the unwritten laws of ‘Netiqette.

Tears against the photocopier

To the casual web debutant, I have to wonder if this ‘efficiency’ of modern electronic communication appears rude.

Some people use shorthand to the extreme, what with the voluminous extension to the written vocabulary by way of acronyms, like BTW (by the way), or gr8 (great) and TTFN (ta ta for now). So just conversing with some people can take longer than if they’d written regular English instead of the mess of acronyms filling your chat window.

Quite a lot has been said and studied with regards to the loss of emotion in emails. Even with the help of smilies – those mostly annoying but sometimes apt visual emotional cues that represent the emotion meant when either writing an email, or more commonly in Instant Messaging – there’s always that moment when a joke or an ironic comment or observation just goes whoooosh! Straight over their head.

Matters are compounded when you’re using colloquialisms, quoting from TV or film, or just making use of language that’s more customary in your culture than theirs. So in a very real sense, something gets lost in translation.

The nightmare of the work-shy: clock-watchin’ across time zones

Time is the great leveler of women & men. Knowing nothing and caring even less of our desire to socialize across time zones, we see waves of people come on-line as others sign off.

Knowing when the west coast of the USA comes on-line is often key to being one of the first things a valued subscriber might be reading over coffee with corn flakes.

If I can find them, those that pass through and comment get a mention. And if I’m feeling forward, I’ll send them an email and thank them for their time.

And finding those that comment, or at least coaxing people to de-cloak long enough to comment can be a rewarding challenge, as Stephen Davies, the tech’ and public relations writer over on PR Blogger recently found out.

As has been the case, some of the people who kindly spare their time to comment have become friends, who I chat with on a regular basis.

If you’re in, then I’m out!

Sometimes, we forget. I might just pop up with a question for someone just as they’re taking their kids to school, while for me it’s late evening.

And then I might get a question or a funny / annoying / racy comment just as I’m sat with a client, working on some website or web application.

But that’s life on the web. It’s an always-on, ever-present Social Network that binds more and more people together for leisure, pleasure of profit.

And if you’re really lucky, all of the above.

Oh, and hi, BTW…

Recommended reading

By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.

8 replies on “Hi, BTW: the Net as our virtual office”

Hi Shana and thanks for the comment!

Shana & I talk a lot, and we both experience the lingo lag from time to time.

For instance, she will ask me: “What’s happening?” as a salutation. But to me, that’s a distress signal, as if there’s something wrong.

We speak the same language, and then we don’t .. all at the same time…

Very interesting post, Wayne. It’s certainly food for thought that is becoming increasing relevant with each day bringing more and more people looking toward the internet for work. I find, even myself, that I have become increasingly lax in my emails, often typing them out instinctually and sending before really stepping back to evaluate my words.

But while there are different concerns with the written word, the challenges aren’t so different than a typical office. I worked in the entertainment industry for several years, and things happen surprisingly the same way. Conversations are brief – niceties are reserved for special people or occasions only. Perhaps New Yorker are known for being particularly casual, but special greetings or good-byes (especially online) seem out-of-place and almost suspicious.

The real question at hand is: are people slowly losing the skill of socializing? Of course we know that broad generalization isn’t equivalently true, but the double-edged sword of anonymity on the internet is certainly having an effect. Look at how many couples have met on – or disgusting predators that stalk children – or gossipers that seem to be all over ever level of media nowadays.

Ok, this girl is rambling from too much red wine, but really enjoyed the post as it got me thinking. And that’s what the web is for.

IMing steadily becomes a modern way of communication and can be reviewed as the next evolutional step after e-mail. To prove this – huge number of different IMs for different protocols or just aggregating different protocols into a single client, web-based- or desktop-based clients, different add-on’s adapting an IM for different communities like smile sets for teenagers or storing an IM history online () for people who treats IMing more seriously.

Hi Kate, so what you’re saying is, the regular pleasantries, salutations et cetera are drifting out of fashion in the real word, too?

Maybe the trend started in the real world?

The thing is, I’m not a city dweller, and for me, pleasantries are much more common-place where I come from.

On those occasions that I travel into a city, meeting people who do acknowledge others with pleasantries is not very common.

The subject of internet anonymity is something I’ve wrestled with recently.

It’s a tough topic, largely because there are so many differing angles of approach and points of view.

Personally, I try not hide behind a pseudonym. Yes, I have usernames on forums. But if asked, I’m quick to tell people about myself.

However, my experience is that others aren’t as quick to ‘de-cloak’ and reveal their true identity.

Lots to think about…

Thanks for the response, Wayne.

I think we are finding our way into a modern chicken-or-the-egg argument. I understand my personal experience does not an urban trend make, but I think the two trends probably happened simultaneously. The decrease of urban communities is very striking, not to mention the suburban phenomenon and urban sprawl. There are very few neighborhoods left, slowly fracturing and disintegrating, which can definitely seen in New York and Philadelphia (two cities I can discuss with certainty).

Perhaps it is a coincidence that all this has occurred as the internet’s popularity has steadily grown?

On the case of anonymity, I think you pretty much have it covered in the post you linked to. In my experience people are generally more than happy to talk about themselves given the chance. I agree that people’s fear of negative “personality branding” certainly plays a part. Even those that are not internet-savvy warn that it is easy to Google employees, potential dates, etc.

Very much to think about, indeed.

Hi Wayne;

I never realized just how much I relied on facial expression and tone of voice to decipher the mood of a conversation until I started using IM extensively, both on the job and socially. Yes, there have been times where I’ve misinterpreted the meaning in a message, (apparently I don’t ‘get’ sarcasm, among other things) but I totally blame the other person 😉

And while electronic communications have become the most expedient way of getting anything done these days, it’s also added volumes to the chaos and confusion of the day. People are in such a hurry to say want they want in as few words as possible, that deriving any particular meaning out of a conversation usually means extensive research on my part or more often than not, finding myself having to ‘ask’ for further elaboration on theirs… which for some reason seems to irritate most people! (I’m probably the only person I know that needs to open a translator and a dictionary the minute the IM window pops open!)

In any regards, for me it’s still a great bit of technology that I wouldn’t live without, simply for the social aspects it affords me. And I for one, still try to keep at least some of the pleasantries alive.

BTW: I’ve de-cloaked just for you 😉

Hi Kate!

What we’re probably seeing is a mix of things, which a social psychologist would probably love to disentangle.

Much of the societal stuff we call ‘Netiquette is most probably derived from the ‘received wisdom’ of those that pioneered the internet and then the web .. when every byte really did count!

Then there’s the mix of people’s, such as city folk and country folk.

So it’s a rich mix, really.

Hi Anna!

You’re probably a good example of the kind of person who’s happy with your own pace of things, but sometimes gets swept up into the fast lane by others.

That’s not to be disrespectful, it’s just that Kate asked me earlier how I manage the inflow of data I receive daily.

I’m just used to it, suppose.

And as for de-cloaking, didn’t I get you to do that on PR Blogger t’other day?

So what am I? An after-thought?!

I’m wounded…

[Please note: Anna knows I’m only joking. We’re like this most of the time.]

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