Yesterday my husband had a routine appointment with his OT at our local hospital.  As per usual we were early and the OT was running late, and we were bored of waiting. So I went onto facebook, ‘checked in’ at the hospital and wrote that we were ‘waiting’. Unfortunately I didn’t clarify anything and got several worried friends on to me asking what on earth was up, and had to explain what was going on.

But it got me thinking about the power of a word, specifically a random word typed on social media. Gone are the vocal inflections we used to rely on (which in yesterday’s case would have told everyone I was just bored out of my tree). Words become a bland thing, easily misinterpretable and misunderstandable.

Someone could put ‘waiting’ as a status and its an urgent thing, a desperate thing or a boredom thing. Or, to use another example, ‘sad’. Sad could mean nothing more than getting engrossed in the plot of your favourite soap opera or it could mean your cat has just died, or all sorts of other interpretations. Without more clarification its impossible for readers to know.  The need to clarify is obvious. It was just that in my boredom it just didn’t occur to me that I would need to clarify what I meant.

Perhaps its also a generational thing – I grew up when statements like ‘waiting’ would have been spoken in person to someone who understood exactly the situation you were in. I’m not exactly old but I know I still get slightly baffled by some of the finer points of netiquette.

Is there a future where every statement will need clarification? Will body language, vocal tone, facial expressions and the like, confuse people one day? Will we be so reliant on the social media norms of explaining ourselves that we end up needing similar verbal explanations for face-to-face conversations? I hope not, but I can definitely imagine such a thing.

Social media has the power to shape us, to change the way we do things. Everyone who follows my facebook news feed will know that not only was I at the hospital yesterday, I also checked in at the local Tesco. The progress of my day could be followed by anyone keen on a bit of judicious snooping. Likewise my blog lets people into my thoughts and my photos let people see where I go. As much as I want to believe my actions are largely private, they really are not. To be private one has to go ‘off grid’, but in doing so one ends up losing touch with all the people in your life who rely on social media as their sole means of contact.

In the last 30 years, words and their useage have changed. Our concept of contact, of staying in touch, of sharing what is on our minds, have all changed. And if one clings too hard to the old ways of doing things one is in danger of losing touch with everyone who is important in your life.  People once feared that text speak would make people lazy writers but in retrospect, with this constant reliance on the written word as a means of communication, writing seems to be more important than ever.

Which all is a long winded way of saying, ‘I really need to think more closely about what I write and how I write it in future’. My words can only convey what my readers interpret from them. If I want a particular interpretation to be applied I need to be clear as to what I want that to be.

Perhaps yesterday my facebook status should have been, “getting bored of waiting for Ben’s OT to show her face… is she on a tea break or has she just forgotten us?”

Or maybe I shouldn’t have written anything?  Yes… nothing would have definitely been better.

 

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