A friend I knew had made her first foray into the online dating scene a few years ago. A confident urban young woman with a lot of poise, she was receiving a lot of requests for connections. One guy in a particular profile managed to email her directly. She showed it to me with a giggle. It read something like this:
Every morning I wake up smiling with the sun shining on my face and a smile and a song on my lips. I drive dancing to the tune of the radio on my way to work. I bring joy and happiness to those around me all day at work and when the sun goes down I get in touch with my spiritual side as my (light) head hits the pillow at the end of a glorious day.
Okay. Perhaps he didn’t mention his light head but the email was something very much like the one above.
I seem to remember that with all that sunshine in his life, he was wearing a pair of very dark glasses in the profile picture heroically holding a fish that he had caught from some water body behind him.
What can a person’s written language tell us about them as people if we don’t know them at all? Are we right to make an assessment about a person solely based on the way they come across through their writing? For example, would it be right to assume that the guy above is either silly or over-the-top or working too hard to impress? Were we right to giggle?
Our language use in the age of the internet is becoming increasingly important in our daily lives even for those who do not particularly have much to do with the fanciful or the literary. We have to put ourselves in front of people in a million ways through our writing online. Our ubiquitous online presence through pictures and words tell both known and unknown people who we are.
Our words are all over the internet– on social media through what we have written about ourselves on our profiles, on comments on other people’s posts, on picture captions, on professional profiles, on tweets, on recipes, on posts tagged by other people and in so many other places. Even the absence of our presence online conveys a message about us.
Most of us write objective content on such forums (when we are not revealing facts about ourselves) thinking these facts will be read as separate from us as people. But when we comment awwww or OMG! we might be conveying impressions about ourselves to people who have never known us. They might be expecting us to say Cho Chweet next given the right provocation.
As we are increasingly forced to make judgments regarding people based on these first impressions, not just in the realm of dating or job hiring but also for finding group members, friends, casual acquaintances or interesting people to “follow” online, are we determining our relationships with people based on word usage as well?
This is especially true of people we’ve known via their web presence only but often we see new sides of people’s we’ve known traditionally as well. We see aspects of these people online we never knew existed before thanks to the internet. For example, our quiet classmate might reveal herself to be a secret romantic through status updates or our surly neighbour might turn out to have a witty side on his comments. Our writing today carries more weight in determining our everyday lives and relationships in a way it hadn’t before.
This got me thinking. How have I made assumptions (fairly or unfairly) about people based on their language use alone on the internet?
If the person uses excessive cliches, my tendency at first has been to think of them as sort of excessively empty headed but I’ve often found such assumptions incorrect in real life. Often such people have just turned out not confident enough about their grasp over language to use fresh or innovative words, that’s all. So they went the much paved path of cliches on their way to literary hell.
If the person hasn’t cared the least about grammar in comments or posts I’ve begun to wonder if they could also be careless and irresponsible. Could it be that they knew correct usage but were not detail oriented enough to bother with the apostrophes and the tenses? Or could it be that grammar was beyond their grasp? Or were they writing from a mobile device and trying to convey meaning in as few keystrokes as possible? What did those ellipses every few words mean? Could they be missing words? Were they hoping I’d read their mind?
The doppelgänger of this totally ungrammatical or non-grammatical person has also been the bane of my life–the determined driver on that way to rhetorical hell. A Grammar Nazi, this person has had every period, every comma, every part of speech in its place until I’ve felt a personal text was a runaway paragraph from my high school geography textbook. He always writes the same way he’s been trained be it an email, a text or a handwritten card. Sometimes that has made me wonder if this person could also be excessively planned in real life, non-spontaneous, overly detail oriented, perhaps unemotional? Or could it be just that this person is better at grammar than I am?
Then again there is the person who never writes anything much at all. He is there in all online social places and says close to nothing but is present everywhere watching. He is the modern-day equivalent of the guy covered in the coat and hat pulled over his face always sitting at the local pub with a beer in the corner never uttering a syllable.
He probably has a line or two in the about section of his social media profile with only basic details. He never writes captions for his pictures or comments on them. He only hits “like” or uses emoticons to leave his trace. He answers messages in monosyllables from his mobile device. His presence is a non-presence, yet his silence either intrigues or irritates.
What other kinds of people have you noticed online?