Take 2 on my virtual world


I mentioned before that Facebook is like Pandora’s box. Open it and all the troubles of the world fly out at you and hit you in the face, ricocheting off into the room and filling your head and your heart with dread. You’re left staring at an enormous pit of empty space inside that famous box. You wonder where the emptiness ends. Where it begins.

Today I want to talk about email. Email is a slyly deceptive vehicle for conveying information. It’s easy, you think. You just type in a message and send it to the person you want to receive it. Easy. That person emails back, or not. Equally easy.

It seems good – so quick, so efficient, wonderfully communicative. Or is it?

Example: I email my friend Susie. “Hey Susie! I need to mow the lawn. When was the last time you helped me out?” Susie writes back, “Friend, when was the last time you helped me with anything?”

So now we have a miscommunication.

Scenario 1: I could have added a smiley face at the end of my teasing question. That would have told Susie that I was joking. That I had to mow the lawn and boy, would I like to get someone else to do it! I didn’t add that smiley face. I figured she knew I’d be joking, since I joke a lot. But she’s having a bad day, and she took my tease the wrong way.

Scenario 2: Susie could have added a smiley face to the end of her response. She didn’t. So her remark sounded snippy to me. I’m confused, because I was just joking. I’m unsure what Susie means. Is she mad at me? Is she resentful about something? I don’t know.

There are many other possible scenarios with this one simple communication. How easy it is to misinterpret what the other is saying. Without body language, without any of the senses except for sight that we use to judge and determine intent, we can easily be lost in miscommunication. Email allows no sound, no taste, no smell, no touch, no body language. No hugs, no kisses, no smiles, no frowns, no angry stares. It’s easy to pile miscommunication upon miscommunication.

Now, I might have added to my email, “Pizza after we’re done!” Then Susie might have realized my friendly intent. Susie might have added a frown face after her response. Then I would have known I teased her too much. There are ways to make email work.

But, it isn’t easy. I have to be quite intentional and measured with emotions. I cannot express what’s really in my heart because it can’t be legitimized without that body language that is part of our human experience. I have to be perfect with words and clear in intent. Once words are written, they can never be taken back. They are immortalized for eternity, written in Pandora’s box. Click ‘Send’ and you’ve committed to the consequences. Whether your ideas are well crafted and the intentions understandable or not, it’s too late once you hit ‘Send’.

My friendly advice is, don’t hit ‘Send’ unless you’re sure your message is exactly the message you intend to deliver.


2 thoughts on “Take 2 on my virtual world

  1. Thank you for your considered response, Raymond. I appreciate your remarks. Maybe what I should do from now on is to include a picture of myself to remind my email recipients that I am a real person with feelings just like themselves, and that I mean well. But there is no going back on some things. See my “Cruel Time” posting on that subject!

    Thanks again for your help and fb friending.


  2. Yes, without visible body language, voice intonation, facial expression and even occasional silences to punctuate an email, the latter can so easily be misinterpreted.

    But you are saved by your smiling avatar – a picture is so often worth a thousand words. For instance I would like to affectionately echo the word used by one of your friends on facebook; “that pixie face”.

    You as recipient may/may not misinterpret this, as a mere three-word adjectival phrase, but it doesn’t remove the affection which your friend and I have for the soul that seems to be mirrored in the moment of that smile.

    Of course, portraits and photographs, too, can so easily be misinterpreted, but then some qualities in a facial expression are perhaps universal and, if the observer is sufficiently sensitive to pick this up, then no words are needed and no misinterpretation is therefore possible.

    I suppose, then, that the tight-rope between interpretation and misinterpretation must lie in the sensitivity or lack of it in the recipient of one’s email.

    Only food for thought…

    Best wishes


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