Home > Contemplations, Tech-Etiquette > The Difficulty Of Conveying Emotion, Tone, & Inflection On The Internet

The Difficulty Of Conveying Emotion, Tone, & Inflection On The Internet


Copyright 2010 ZITS Partnership. Distributed by King Features Syndicate.

It has been said time and time again that a large part of human interaction is our body language coupled with the tone and inflection of our voice and a much smaller part is, surprisingly, the words actually spoken. This was less of a problem with our last major society changing communications device: the Telephone. Although we lose out on body language when talking on the phone at least we can still hear the other person’s tone of voice which greatly helps us to understand the true meaning behind their words. As seen in the above comic strip “Zits” when we attempt to move conversation over to the written word (in the form of text messaging or emailing or tweeting) oftentimes things can be misinterpreted or misunderstood completely or even not understood at all.

I have seen this myself countless times and one specific interaction of mine comes to mind to use as an example. During November’s annual Movember campaign (a campaign where men around the world ‘donate their faces’ and grow mustaches to draw support and awareness to prostate cancer) I was interacting with the Twitter account @MoChampions. Innocently (I thought), I tweeted the question “anyone know who is running the @MoChampions account” to which they replied “@Dan_L why I am Dan? What’s up?“. I was fairly taken aback by the strange answer but looking back on it I knew it was them joking around and not being evasive. I was wondering only because I knew some of my Twitter friends were running the campaign in Toronto and I wanted to know if it was one of them behind the account name. I therefore replied to the tweet “@MoChampions I is a pronoun and doesn’t really answer the q. I was wondering if it was one of the tweeps I know running the account“.

I thought I was just pushing lightly for an actual answer but little did I know they were wondering on the other side of their computers why I was so annoyed and combative with them – something I was not attempting to be. We Direct Messaged back and forth after that – they still kept my curiosity piqued without revealing anything! – and a few days later at the Movember Tweetgasm “MoGasm” event at the Gladstone Hotel I met with the guy behind the account who told me that I had the person actually sitting and running the account (who works for him) worried that they were really pissing me off. Of course, I told him that nothing could be further from the truth. I just wasn’t able to convey my joking tone and smiles via Twitter as it relies on words and although the words are sometimes coupled with emoticons and net acronyms like LOL or ROTFLAMO or even the classic haha even those can be misinterpreted as sarcastic instead of joking. Needless to say, the man behind the MoChampions account and I had a laugh about the whole episode once we were in front of each other in real life.

To sum up: In this day and age of instant communication we have to remember that there is a good portion of human language that is lost when we type our words instead of speak them. Always be careful to make sure the other person (or people) knows when you are joking around and when you are being serious. Remember that your words can be reinterpreted by different people to mean different things – ESPECIALLY if they have never met you in real life and know your personality from their own real world experience with you.

[Above ZITS comic from December 26, 2010 via Arcamax publishing at http://www.arcamax.com/zits/s-814331-685736?source=1930 Copyright 2010 ZITS Partnership. Distributed by King Features Syndicate.]

Twitter conversation tweets pictured above can be found at these 3 links Link 1, Link 2, Link 3

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  1. Not a hypocrite
    May 12, 2014 at 9:26 pm

    I have an idea that will make the tone or intent of an email or post very clear without silly childish faces. I need help creating the app….anyone interested??

  1. August 27, 2011 at 12:33 am

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