Conversations on the Small Screen: Talking over Social Media
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Conversations on the Small Screen: Talking over Social Media

– It’s an honor and pleasure for me to introduce Deborah Tannen. I’ve known her for over 40 years, dreadful as that seems, since before she came to
Berkeley as a graduate student. She arrived in 1974 and earned her PhD in
1979, in the same year joining the linguistics
faculty of Georgetown. She’s written about 25 books for academic as well as
non-scholarly readers, over a hundred papers, op-eds and such, and has been the subject of
innumerable media interviews. That’s just a bare-bones
outline of a remarkable career. In describing Deborah’s work, the word important springs
immediately to mind. Linguists reflect on what words mean. What do we mean when we say that a linguist’s work is important? I recall a book I last
encountered a very long time ago, The Important Book by Margaret Wise Brown. It’s a children’s picture
book that considers, in language understandable
to a small child, the difference between the
important property of a thing and its more peripheral properties. So for instance, here’s a segment. “The important thing about a
spoon is that you eat with it. It’s like a little shovel. You hold it in your hand. You can put it in your mouth. It isn’t flat, it’s hollow,
and it spoons things up. But the important thing about a spoon is that you eat with it.” In other words, the most
salient quality of spoons is what they do for the humans using them. So then, what’s the important
thing about language? And what makes linguistic work important? Well, the important thing about language is that it makes us human. It has nouns and verbs and adjectives. It’s built from sounds
and words and sentences. It uses grammatical rules that predict what we can and can’t say. And there are a great many languages that may be very different
from one another. But the important thing about language is that it makes us human. And it’s that aspect of language that Deborah’s work has addressed. And that’s why her work is important. How does language enable us
to be the creatures we are? Social, cognitive, creative, scary, weird, loving, hating, the whole human project. And if we’re so smart, why do our linguistic
practices keep tripping us up? Why do we misunderstand and misuse, even with the best will in the world? And how do the physical
and social contexts in which we use language sometimes resolve those problems? Consider, just as a kind of, as they like to say
nowadays, thought experiment, how you might try using language to accomplish a seemingly simple task, like expressing a desire, stating an opinion, making a request. What available choices would work for, and which would work against you, depending on who you are
and who you’re speaking to? For instance, are you male or female? Are you both co-workers? Are you professors and students? Are the people you’re talking
to your family members? Is your relationship
equal or hierarchical? Close or distant? And furthermore, are you, in this act that you’re engaging in, are you doing something
easy or complicated? Hint here, it’s never easy, no matter what you think. Is it in a social or a
professional setting? And of which kind? And how are you engaging
in this interchange? Is it orally, face to face? On the phone, and what kind of phone? In writing, like old fashioned snail mail? Can anyone remember the last time they wrote a letter, put it in an envelope and put a stamp on it? You people look like you’re about my age. So yeah, we can do that. Or is there, did you perhaps, are you perhaps more comfortable or forced to use some new-fangled way? Perhaps something we don’t
really understand yet. Email, Facebook or Twitter, for instance. Deborah has addressed
all of these questions, and innumerable others. How do we do language? What do we need to know to get it right? Why and how do we get it wrong? Deborah’s answers are always
profoundly insightful. Today, Deborah Tannen will speak to us on one of these topics, one that we find, all of us, certainly I do, find
especially vexed and vexing. Conversation on the Small Screen, Talking Over Social Media. And I know that all of us will emerge more knowledgeable and
confident users of language, and hence better humans, after her talk. So, Deborah. – Thank you, Robin. I got my PhD in linguistics
at Berkeley, really, thanks to Robin Lakoff. It was Robin who inspired
me to go into linguistics. It was because of her
that I came to Berkeley, and everything that I’m
gonna say to you today you can trace to things
I learned from Robin. So it’s an honor and a
personal great pleasure to be introduced by you, thank you. And I wanna thank the Hitchcock Committee for inviting me to give these lectures. It’s quite a few years since I was here, and I guess some things are different, but it also feels very
nostalgic, very much the same. And again, a great pleasure to be back. So as you heard, I’ve spent
the last, about 40 years studying the language of conversation. And I’ll say one last thing. I think it was about, the 1970s, when I got into linguistics, that many fields were turning to analyzing everyday interaction. So linguistics previously had been kind of formal and kind of abstract. At least the major branch was. And Robin Lakoff’s work was really crucial in turning attention to the language as it’s used in everyday life. And that was what
attracted me to the field. Well, conversations now take place over screens, over social media. So at Georgetown I teach classes
on analyzing conversation and I had to move toward looking at conversations that are
taking place on the screen. More and more conversations
are taking place that way. Everything we say has a
message and a metamessage. The message would be the
meaning of the words. If you know the language then
you would know what that is. But what we really react
to is what we might call, what I sometimes call the metamessage, and it’s a term I borrow from the anthropologist Gregory Bateson, though he used it differently. So the metamessage is, what does it say about our relationship that I say these words
in this way at this time? How do I mean what I say? It’s like a superordinate message telling you how to interpret the words that you just heard. Well we know that in face
to face conversation, it could be by various implication, tone of voice, facial expression, are you taciturn or loquacious, and a whole range of ways of speaking that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about and writing about. When you talk to somebody over a screen, now I’m not talking
about Skype and Facetime, but when you’re typing
messages over the screen, you don’t have the facial
expression, the tone of voice, laughter, smiling, all those other things that will communicate how
you mean what you say. So how are metamessages
communicated on screen? And so that’s a bit of what
I’ll be talking about today. So I’m gonna be giving
you a series of examples. They are all real, natural
occurring interaction. As I said I teach at Georgetown and I teach a class in
the use of social media as conversation, and I also teach a class called Cross-Cultural Communication. And in both those classes, I have students each
week observe interaction and bring in some examples of interaction that they participated in. And they write it up, they describe it and they analyze it in terms
of their own experience and what we’ve studying in class, the theories and methods
we’ve been learning in class. And so all the examples that
I’ll be giving you today are either those that students brought in or, many of them also come from examples that I use in my
book about women friends. It’s called You’re The
Only One I Can Tell, Inside the Language of
Women’s Friendships. So those are the sources
of those examples. So it’s either people I
interviewed for that book or students that brought
examples into class. In both cases, if I’m using
their language in this way, I got permission. And I also cleared with them exactly what I’m saying about them, and they approved that I
pretty much got it right. So I’ll be giving you these examples, talking about them. I’ll be focusing in particular on differences that tend to vary by gender and sometimes by generation. And other influences as well, but mostly gender and generation. You’ve probably been
hearing a lot of criticism of social media being
used for interaction. I think many people feel that it’s degrading relationships in some way. And my inclination is always to maybe defend the underdog, you might say. Or maybe just, as linguists, we wanna know why people are using
language in a particular way, how are they using it, but we’re not so much in the business of saying this is good and this is bad. But I will be pointing out what I see as some of the advantages of using social media to communicate and also what some of the liabilities are. A question that often comes up, is it more distant or more intimate to communicate in that way. I’ll be addressing that
question toward the end. And how is it really changing our way of being in the world? The examples that I’m giving you are gonna be mostly of text, even though I know that much of what is being communicated now
in these conversations would be pictures. And in fact this is a change that I’ve seen over the perhaps five years that I’ve been teaching this course. In the beginning I would say well you know, at least
everybody’s typing, and they’re typing language
and using language. And now, more and more, it’s pictures. So it’s emojis and bitmojis and memes. But I’m gonna use examples mostly of text, because I’m looking for the ways that language is being presented and framed by the metamessage. You know, I first started to think of uses of new media as parallel in many ways to patterns that I had identified in studies that I was doing
of everyday conversation, by the frequency of which I heard people accusing other people of being rude. And that’s how I really
started, in my work, analyzing everyday conversation. I talked about something that I called conversational style. As I said last night, my dissertation was a comparison of conversational style of people from New York compared
to people from California. And there were many ways I had encountered where ways of using language which were considered
quite polite in New York were seen as rude in California, and it made me think about, what are ways that we come to assume language is either polite or rude. And I started hearing things
like that about social media. So many people my age
were frequently frustrated by younger people, very
often it was parents frustrated by their children, because the kids would be
texting under the table while we’re having
dinner, and they should be communicating with us, and it’s rude to be texting when you’re
in communication with me. And I heard complaints that kids are rude because they don’t answer the phone. And they don’t, often
don’t listen to voicemail. And that seems rude. At the same time, I hear
younger people telling me that it’s kinda rude to
call people on the phone. It’s intrusive, you know? You don’t know what I’m
doing, I might be busy. If you really wanna talk on the phone you should text and ask me if
it’s convenient to talk now. And when kids are texting under the table, often what they’re doing is avoiding being rude to their friends, because there’s an expectation that you’re gonna answer a text quite quickly. And when you think about it, why should your friend wait for hours to know what time you wanna meet her, when you could just take a couple minutes and answer the text? So these senses of what’s
rude and what’s polite vary very much by generations and the uses of social media. All very parallel to the kind of thing that I was talking about and writing about in everyday conversation. So I wanna talk about some of the features of speaking over on the screen that are parallel in some way. Pacing and pausing is something that I have talked about that I actually mentioned
yesterday as well. How long a pause do you
expect between turns. Depending on the part of
the country you come from, you may expect a longer or
shorter pause between turns. What is a normal pause
in a texted conversation? How soon do you expect
somebody to return the text? When do you start thinking, you’re communicating something negative because you’re not answering me. Somebody that I interviewed for
the book about women friends was telling me about a friend
who stopped talking to her, and then she followed up by saying, she didn’t answer my text for two days. So a two-day delay in answering a text was equivalent to not
talking to me at all. I was also somewhat
amused by a young woman, again a college student, who told me that she expects her friends to answer quite quickly, and if the friend doesn’t answer quickly, she’ll call her on the phone and say, answer the text please. Now, it blew my mind. She’s got her friend on the phone. Why not ask her whatever
it is you wanna ask her. But no, the conversation
should be taking place on text. The friend violated the norms
by taking too long to answer, she wanted her to fix it
but answer on the phone. Something that I talked about
in everyday conversation that has become quite significant I think, I’ll be showing you in
examples of new media, something that I call an
enthusiasm constraint. Many of us assume that to really believe somebody means what they say, there has to be a level of enthusiasm. I first thought of this in connection with cross-cultural communication between Greece and the United States. A Greek woman that I had interviewed was telling me, when she was young, if she asked her father if she should go to a particular dance or something, if her father said, if
you want you can go, that meant she shouldn’t go. If he really wanted her to go, he would say yes, you should go. So there was a level of
enthusiasm that she expected to know that what was
said was really meant. This is something that varies very much by gender in social media. And so I’m gonna start showing you a series of examples where you see, how is enthusiasm expressed using these written messages on screen, and also what are some of
the gender differences. Someone named Susan Haring has written far more than I have
about gender differences, so if you’re interested in pursuing that you can follow up some
of what she’s written. So all these examples
come from field notes that students of mine wrote. They brought in the
examples, wrote about them, and have approved the way
I’m talking about them here. So the first one is an
exchange that took place between a young woman who
was a student at Georgetown, and her brother who was
a student at a college between Washington where Georgetown is and New York City where they were from. And she was proposing that
she would visit her brother on her way home for a break. So she sent this message to her brother. “Hey! So I have an idea for
President’s Day Weekend!” And he said “Oh God, you
and your ideas, what is it?” It’s a kind of sarcasm, playful teasing, that is not unusual for guys, more common among guys than girls. She said, “I’m gonna go home
from Saturday to Monday, but what do you think of me coming to visit you on the way back?” She meant on the way there. “I can take the train and stay over Thursday and Friday night. We can do something fun
during the day on Friday, it’s supposed to be really nice out!” He replied, “Okay cool. Thursday is fine but I have a club baseball tournament I’m
leaving for Friday.” “Oh, okay. Well we can get dinner and go out on Thursday then??” “Dinner sounds good, I’ll
pick you up at the station.” “Wow, good thing you sound so excited.” Can you perceive and had you yourself thought that he sounded less
enthusiastic than he should. I’m real curious, how many of you thought he isn’t all that into this? How many of you thought, sure, he thinks it’s good, he’s on board? That’s about half and half. And he said, “What? Sorry, I am, I am.” And she commented that she was later convinced that he was
enthusiastic about it. He wanted to introduce her
to his friends, which he did. And she concluded that there was a gender difference going on, that for him “sounds good”
really meant it’s good. For her, it would not mean that. And the next example if gonna show you what she might have expected, and what the young women
that brought in examples were more likely to do. So Jillian and Kimberly were friends and previously had lived in the same dorm, so they saw each there quite often, and now they’re living in different dorms. So Jillian sent this message. “Hey so I haven’t seen you the ENTIRE week and I reeeally miss you!” So you have capitalization, ENTIRE, and repetition of letters. “What are you doing
tonight/tomorrow for meals? Sorry I had to miss lunch yesterday! But really, this needs to change because I miss McCarthy
8,” that’s the dorm, “Only because I can’t just
stop by your room to chat!” And Kimberly replied
“I miss you too!!!!!!!” Multiple exclamation points. “R you going to Justin
and Lance’s tonight?? Slash wanna do din tomorrow??” That slash is very interesting. She means slash, in other
words here’s an option. And people often say that we
type things to save keystrokes, but using a slash would’ve
been fewer keystrokes than writing out the word slash. But I think what she’s doing is writing what she would’ve said. She explained to me
they say that sometimes. “I can’t wait to catch up on life!!” Exclamation points. Now when Kimberly turned it this email, this exchange, and analyzed it, what she said was, I wasn’t all that
excited about seeing her. I just knew that I had to use
multiple exclamation points or she would’ve thought
that I was unenthusiastic and not eager to see her. A student told me that her mother would start a text to her by saying hi. And she had to tell her
mother, please add “I”s. Because hi with one “I” sounds cold. There are many other
ways that people start, but it’s gotta be something special that shows you are enthusiastic. “Yoooo” with extra “O”s. “Hayy” with an extra “Y” and some people do spell it
with an “A” rather than an “E.” I think there’s a tendency often to change things a bit
just to be creative. You could have “Hey!”
with an exclamation point, and you could have “Yo!”
with an exclamation point. But you gotta do something to show some level of extra enthusiasm. A mother gave me this example of how she interpreted her daughter’s use or not use of exclamation points. So the situation here, the
daughter was in high school, she was a member of the soccer team, the soccer team was going on an away trip, and she knew that the daughter had some concerns about the bus ride, for various reasons
that had something to do with what was going on
among the girls on the team. So the mother texted her daughter. “bus ride ok????” Multiple question marks, speaking her daughter’s dialect. The daughter said “yah.” “no exclamation point????” “no need for one haha” In other words, things
weren’t going so great. The “haha” is great. I always have a unit in class where we bring in, students bring in all the different variations on “haha.” When do you say “ha,”
when do you say “haha,” when do you say “hahaha,” when do you use a smiley,
when do you use a meme, and I could give a whole talk about that. So it’s her way of saying I’m not entirely serious
about what I just said. It’s exactly, these “haha”s
and other variations of it, is doing exactly what you
would do by tone of voice if you were speaking to
somebody voice to voice. Here’s an example of a woman who, there were two friends, one sent the other a picture of earrings she had just bought, and this is what her friend replied. “OMG!!!!!” Multiple exclamation points. “THEY ARE SOSOSOSOSO GORGEOUS!!!!!!!!” Multiple exclamation points. “Just so YOU” capitalization, “and so perfect!!!!!!”
Multiple exclamation points, “absolutely beautiful!!!!!!”
Multiple exclamation points. How old do you think the
person is who sent this? She was a woman in her 50s, a physician, one of my
sister’s close friends. And I was with my sister
when she bought the earrings, sent her friend a picture, ’cause her friend knew she
was looking for earrings, she wanted to tell her I found the kind of earrings
she was looking for, and her friend sent this back. And I said, I have to use this. Please ask her for permission to use it, and this is what her friend
replied and my sister passed on. “of course, as long as she
recognizes that the note was really an intentionally
funny exaggeration.” And that is one of the things that I’ll be saying about
these uses of new media, that they’re, it’s used very creatively. And I think people are aware that they’re using it creatively. And it’s fun to use these funny markings and creative uses of exclamation points, capitalizations, repetition of letters. So, when the sister didn’t see all that, she thought that her brother
was feeling negative, and he wasn’t. Sometimes people can use
leaving out these things to be intentionally negative. And so, this next example was, the situation is, bunch of
girls were meeting somewhere, they were gonna go somewhere, and somehow it ended up that most of them went away, and one of them, the student who was in my class, she’s the one who wrote about
it, her name was Jackie, was left waiting for the one late-comer. And she sent this text to her friend. “Thanks for waiting for
Emily with me that’s cool” No punctuation, no capitalization, no exclamation points. “JACKIE I AM SO SO SO SORRY!” She needs the capitalizations and the repetition and
the exclamation point to show how badly she
feels about leaving her. “I thought you were behind us in the cab and then I saw you weren’t!!!!!” Multiple exclamation points. “I feel soooooooo bad! Catch another can and I’ll
pay for it for youuuuu” The repetition of the
letter “U” at the end was very intriguing to me. When you see the repetition of “O” on “I’m soooooooo sorry,” you feel like, and I did when I read it, draw out that sound, I’m soooooooo sorry. I don’t think this should be read, I’ll pay for it for youuuuu. The repetition in itself shows enthusiasm and that you feel strongly
about what you’re saying. “no its fine we are walking” “seriously Jackie please,
get a cab, I feel so bad!!!” Exclamation points. “we are walking there its fine” And of course, you know
it’s not really fine, because she doesn’t have
those markers of enthusiasm. Next couple of examples
are cross-generational, really misunderstandings in how these kinds of punctuation
markers are used. This was an example from a student. She had gone out to a restaurant
to celebrate her birthday, her father knew that, and her
father sent her this text. “How did dinner go?” And she said, “It was so
good! We went to Papa Razzi!” And exclamation points in both cases. “Wow…” When the student reported it, she said to her, the three dots after “Wow” means I don’t really mean wow. It undercuts what you said before. So “Wow…” means, couldn’t
you have done better than that? And she commented in her analysis of it that her father had a habit of signing texts “I love you…” Which to her meant, I
don’t really love you. Undercutting what had come before. When I saw this example,
I suddenly understood something in an earlier example that I had ignored, I
hadn’t paid attention to. This was Sarah’s response to her brother. “Wow…good thing you sound excited…” Dot dot dot, you don’t
really sound excited. “Wow…” I’m underwhelmed
by your reaction. And I had missed it, because frankly, I didn’t understand that dot dot dot undercuts
what’s said before. As this young woman’s father also didn’t. Another thing that is different
across the generations is the use of the period. So this was in a text that a young student in my class got from her mother. Mom texted “Talk in 30?” And student, name was Rose, said “I’m free now and in 3 hours.” And her mother replied “Now.” How many of you got the
impression her mother’s mad? So did Rose. She thought, uh oh, what did I do now? And she was pleasantly surprised, nothing particular, mother
just wanted to talk. Her mother put a period, now, because it was the end of the sentence. When young people use a period
at the end of a sentence, it usually means you’re angry. Otherwise, you have no punctuation. So those kinds of small differences in uses of punctuation are quite common. Just one more example here
about a gender difference. A student in my class, his name was Matt, decided for an assignment to compare text messages he got from his father and text messages he got from his mother. And he decided he would look
at 20 messages from each one. Now he discovered a
difference right at the start. In order to collect 20
messages from his mother, he had to go back three weeks. In order to collect 20
messages from his father, he had to go back six months. So his mother was texting
him far more often than the father did. But I’ll show you two examples where he looked side by side at how, first his father, then his mother texted about the same situation. The situation here is that he was expecting them to visit, they were at the airport
and the plane was delayed. So the father said “Good” to something, that was an earlier message, “American Airlines Flight 3421 running late, due in at 9:45.” And Matt replied “Sounds good.” His mother also texted. “Hi honey… At the airport, RDU.” That’s Raleigh Durham. “…Delayed till 8:45. Due into DC at 10pm. I’ll keep you posted” Heart, kissy face. And his response was
the same, “Sounds good.” So you see a lot of things
going on with his mother. Again, the use of dot dot dot, which he knows she didn’t mean
to undercut what she said, but that’s what it would mean, using periods at the end of sentences, which kids wouldn’t mean, but more talk, more verbiage,
and enthusiasm markers. The heart, the kissy face. The next two that I’ll show you were their ways of responding, he had just gotten his driver’s license, and they both texted about it. Dad, “Man did u get ur license?” “Yessir, got it yesterday.” Mom, “Hey Matt…What do you think of your driver’s license pic?? Are you happy with it?” “Haha, yup, I’m happy with it.” “I LOVE it!!!!” Caps,
multiple exclamation points, three thumbs up and a big smile. And this is often how emojis are used, as markers of enthusiasm. This is very much like what I wrote about in the book You Just Don’t Understand, the book I wrote way back in the ’90s about differences that
tend to characterize women’s and men’s uses of language. And I developed the terms there of “report talk” versus “rapport talk.” Report talk being a focus mostly on whatever the information is that you wanna get across, and rapport talk, where
you add extra words to focus on the positive
feelings of the relationship. And that very much characterizes this. A lot of what the mother was doing was a kind of rapport talk, a lot of what the father
was doing was report talk. Just getting the message across. So those are my examples of these kinds of markers that we use to communicate how we mean what we say. What are the metamessages we have in mind when we communicate? And sometimes the fact that
those metamessages are not there can create quite a bit of confusion. The taciturnity of messages can create, in itself, confusion. A young woman in my class made a comment in discussion one time, she said, I am sick and tired of seeing relationship after relationship break up because the girls send
these long chatty texts and they get one word responses. It was rapport talk versus report talk. But this was a text message
that one of the women wrote a field note about. It was a message that had been received by a friend of hers from a boy that she liked, and the message said, “Hey.” And now I’ll read you what
the student wrote about it, she said, about the girl
who received the text, “She wondered, what did he mean, hey? Did he really mean just ‘hey?’ Was he checking to see if she was busy? Was he actually interested in her like she was interested in him? Was he bored? How should she respond? Should she assume that there was something implied by his text? Address the frame of the conversation? Or just respond on the
message level he had set up? And she described how
all the group of friends spent about 10 minutes discussing what this young man
probably meant by “hey,” and how she should respond. And I was quite amused
reading this wondering, did the young man realize that whatever response he got had actually been composed by a committee? But I got a lot of examples like that. Girls spend a lot of time looking at each other’s text messages, deciding what they mean, talking about what would
be an appropriate response. Especially if it had to do with romantic relationships or
potential romantic relationships. The one thing they could not do is ask him what he meant by “hey.” Because when something is indirect you can’t make somebody
be direct about it. And here’s a rather similar example that was written up in a field note by a young man that a friend of his, again, there’s a guy
that his friend liked, young woman, and this guy that she liked had put a link on a page of hers to a song with romantic lyrics. And she wondered, did this mean that he’s trying to communicate that he has romantic feelings toward her? So she asked him, are you
trying to say something? And he replied, uh, no
I just like the song. I don’t think that means he necessarily just liked the song. If he sent it as a song because he didn’t feel
comfortable saying it outright, he wouldn’t feel comfortable
saying it outright when she asks him either. So there’s really no way to
know the answer to that one. Switching to the message
level doesn’t work. Some communication you just have to read on the metamessage level. I want to talk now about some of the possibilities, capabilities, and opportunities for creativity when conversations are
held on these screens, but also some of the liabilities. And some of the liabilities are the same as the ones we have in face to face conversation, and some are particular to the medium. And here’s one. Have you ever gotten an email where your name is in a
cc line among other names? Do you ever pay attention to
where your name is in the list? Two women that I was interviewing
for my book about friends, and they were good friends and I was talking to them together, one of them made a comment about that. And this is what she said. She said, “you feel special when you’re the first one on there. And you feel not special
when you’re the last one. Because if you’re dead last, it’s like they were thinking, who am I forgetting?” And then we discussed, well you could try to correct for that by putting the names on the bcc line, so nobody can see what names are there. And she said, yeah but if you do that, it looks like you’re inviting all of Northwest Washington. ‘Cause if you’re using bcc you must have so many names on there. One of the women made a very
interesting observation. She worked in a real estate firm and she said she had
gotten a message at work, she was on the cc line,
her name was first, she had this momentary
feeling of pleasure, isn’t that nice, I’m first. She happened to be in the
office of another colleague, and saw the same message on her screen, and on her screen, the
recipient’s name was first. And she realized that there was a program that put first the name of whoever is receiving the message. But you don’t know that
that’s what they’re doing so you would overinterpret, and think that it means that the person who wrote it thought of you first. Another liability of
communications on screen, it’s a kind of enforced overhearing. It’s a little bit like
you’re in a bathroom, you’re behind the door in a
stall with the door closed, and there are people sitting
outside, talking outside, and they’re talking about you. ‘Cause they don’t know you’re there and they don’t know you’re hearing them. It’s a kind of enforced overhearing and it can be pretty unsettling. There are situations
using email or texting and all these other
multiple recipient media, where you end up overhearing things that were really not intended for you. And it can happen a lot of different ways. Sometimes it’s using “reply all,” and losing track of who
is on that reply all list, and saying things you think
you’re saying to one person but you’re actually
overheard by many more. Sometimes it’s forwarding things without remembering what’s
down further on that thread, and the person you forwarded to sees things you don’t
think they should see. Or simply sending it to the wrong person. I think we’ve probably
done all of those things. But enforced overhearing
can be used strategically, and I was very intrigued by this example that a student of mine explained. She said she had gone to a high school that was highly competitive, and all her friends, her group of women friends in this high school knew which colleges others had applied to. And when they got into a college, and it was their first choice college and they were gonna go, they put their status,
what their plans are, but it let people know they had gotten into this good college. So for example, “GEORGETOWN CLASS OF 2019!!!!” This is also announcing to the friends that she got into Georgetown. Now the student wrote in her field note, she faced a dilemma. She had applied to a number
of competitive colleges, she had gotten into all of them, which she was rather proud of, but she hadn’t decided which one to go to. Now she would have liked
to let her friends know, but she didn’t feel she could. For example, you can’t
put a status like this, “ACCEPTED AT GEORGETOWN!” That’s boasting. You can’t do that, that’s not, would not have been okay. But if she didn’t do anything, all her friends knew that the colleges had sent out their acceptances, so if she didn’t post any, they would all think she
didn’t get in anywhere. So how did she solve it? She had her sister post this message. “Congrats on UVA acceptance!
So proud of you!” She wasn’t boasting, it was
her sister who put it up there. But her friends could overhear from her sister’s congratulations that she had been accepted. So I was intrigued by that. Creative use of the affordances
of these social media, in ways that they perhaps were not intended to be used but had turned out to be very useful. I want to say something now about the, something I referred to in the beginning, a sense of scorn and criticism that I sometimes perceive, especially among older people
but also some younger people, toward the use of social media. There was one woman
that I was interviewing, she was in her 80s, and she said, she was talking about this, how destructive she thought
all this social media are, and she said, “All that stuff out there
that nobody needs to know. I don’t care what
somebody had for dinner.” And I was intrigued by that because what I was hearing from women friends was how much they appreciated a friend to whom they could say
what they had for dinner. In fact last night I quoted someone who said about someone,
“she’s not that good a friend, I wouldn’t tell her
what I had for dinner.” It’s that end of the day conversation where you know somebody cares about the details of your life, and that’s a positive thing. I think a lot of what
we see on social media are things that we would
do with close friends, but it’s now possible to do
to a larger number of people. And I think that’s what
results in a feeling that it’s insincere. And I don’t think it necessarily is, quote, insincere, but it’s rather, using more widely something that you may have expected to be used more narrowly. So sending pictures of
food would be one example. It’s kind of a feeling that people are with you when they’re not with you. There’s a phrase that is sometimes used, it’s “absent presence,” a sense of presence of people
who are not physically there. So the ability to send pictures or send texts telling what you’re up to gives a sense of connection
to people who aren’t there. Maybe in the past if they were there you would elbow them and
say, hey look at that, so now they’re not
there, you take a picture and it’s like saying, hey look at that. A woman that I interviewed, and again, I’ll mention she was a
physician, professional woman, told me that she’s busy
now, she has kids at home, she doesn’t have time to shop with friends that she used to really
enjoy shopping with. So what she will do is, if she sees something online, she’ll take a picture of it, send the link to her friend and ask the question, frumpy or fabulous. And she said, I’ll imply that I’m thinking of buying it
and I need her opinion. Is it frumpy or fabulous? If we were shopping together,
that’s what you would do. You’d get her opinion about something you’re considering buying. And then she said, I know
I’m not gonna buy it, but by sending it I tell
her I’m thinking of her. It’s a way of saying,
we’re still connected even though we don’t have
time to see each other. So I think this ability to create more connection over social media is really a very powerful
and very positive thing. However, it also has a downside, and here’s one of the downsides. I mentioned last night, there’s a common expression, F-O-M-O, FOMO, fear of missing out, which explains why we’re
always checking our phones, make sure we don’t miss
something important that we should know about. And I devised the
acronym FOBLO, F-O-B-L-O, fear of being left out. Which is worse. And as I said last night, with FOMO you miss the party ’cause you didn’t check
your phone in time, with FOBLO you miss the party
because you weren’t invited. And that hurts. When you think about it, every single person that you know is doing something without
you when you’re not there. But you don’t have to know that. And you don’t have to think about it. But if they’re constantly posting pictures of where they are and what they’re doing, you have to think about it. And it’s very intriguing to me, I often talk about how things
have more than one meaning and can have different
meanings to different people. So a student of mine wrote a field note. She was one of three sisters, the sisters were very close, and she had all these examples of how if two of the sisters were together, they would take a picture
and send it to the third one so she would feel included. And I thought, I don’t wanna see pictures of what my two sisters are
doing when I’m not there. Because it’s gonna make me feel left out. So I think different people react differently to these things. But putting these pictures
up without being asked means you’re subjected to
seeing what everybody’s doing, and there is that risk
of feeling left out. Another dilemma that exists in face to face communication as well is the question, what’s
real and what’s fake. And I know the issue of fake
news is very current now. But when you think about it, this has always been
an issue in our lives. People tell you things, is it true or not? They could be mistaken,
they could be intentionally saying something that’s not true. When you see things online, what’s true and what’s not? And I think it makes it
particularly challenging. There’s a phrase that
people sometimes use, that again, my students told me about. “No pics, didn’t happen.” Which they say to each other to mean, send us a picture, if you really want me
to believe it happened, send me a picture. But what’s really
interesting about that is sometimes a picture can be deceiving. Just because it’s a picture doesn’t mean that it really happened. This is something one
young woman I interviewed for the book about
friends commented to me. She said, “I’ll get a phone
call from one of my friends saying she had a terrible
time at this party, and she wishes she hadn’t gone. Then I’ll get off the
phone and check Instagram and I’ll see a picture of her smiling and having fun at the party, which if I didn’t just have
that conversation with her, I would think I was missing
the party of the century.” So when you think about it, the pictures that people put up are often always cheerful, always smiling, always acting like they’re
having a great time. And they may not be having a great time. But when you see them there, you think they are, and
you might feel left out. Another young woman told me that she put up a picture
of herself at a party, her boyfriend got angry at her because there was a guy behind her that he really didn’t like. And she said she hadn’t even
talked to the guy at the party. But he was there in the picture, so her boyfriend got the wrong impression. So pictures can be
actually quite misleading. Another liability with
conversations over social media is that norms are changing so quickly. And things that some people
think are quite appropriate others think are not appropriate at all. Do any of you sign off
messages with “X”s and “O”s? A friend of mine was telling me how much she hates that. She thinks it’s terrible, it’s not, she said, oh it doesn’t mean anything, it’s just keys to hit. And I said, why is that just keys to hit, and the word love is not just keys to hit? Just assumptions that she
has in connection with that. And when she said that I
started feeling really nervous. ‘Cause I use XOXO sometimes. And it’s really difficult to know what is gonna be approved of and what is not gonna be
approved of by other people. Two friends, actually quite close friends, were telling me that they had been really good
friends in high school, they went to college together and they’re now living
in different cities, and one of them was really
pretty upset with the other. Because she was texting things
that were bothering her, really intimate things that she would have talked to her friend about. And she was getting
very minimal responses. Well they talked about
it, and the friend said she really didn’t think
texting was appropriate for those kinds of interchanges. So good friends, same age,
but different assumptions about what’s appropriate
and what’s not appropriate over particular media. I have two sisters, as I just mentioned. One is very comfortable
talking about personal things, the other is less so. One time I was talking to
that sister on the phone, and we had a nice
conversation and we hung up, and then I opened email and she told me about
something really significant that had been going on in her life. So I answered on email, we just talked on the phone,
why didn’t you mention it? And she said, the
telephone is so impersonal. And at first this sounded illogical to me. Isn’t email impersonal?
Isn’t the phone personal? You hear the voice. But we talked about it, and she explained, when you’re writing email, it’s like you’re writing in a journal. It’s just you and the
screen and your thoughts. And many people find it easier to express that way something
intimate than they would with a person facing them. That person facing you sort
of makes you uncomfortable. It’s like they’re bearing down on you. And there are many examples of that. The whole question about whether using social media is more
intimate or less intimate. Here’s a cartoon from the New Yorker that shows the view that
it is less intimate. So two guys at a bar, and one says to the other, “I used to call people, and
then I got into emailing, and then texting, and now
I just ignore everyone.” So clearly he thinks using social media is less personal, you
get further and further away from people until you might as well just write them off entirely. But my students gave
me many examples of how people could say things through texting that they wouldn’t say
that were more intimate. For example, a young man whose mother was born in the Philippines. And he said his mother
never said, I miss you. She would say dad misses you, she would say we miss you. But then they started texting, and she would write, I miss you. And he was very touched by that. And it was more intimate
given social media. Here’s another one. I think many people feel quite strongly that condolence notes should
not be written on email. That is something that really
requires handwritten notes. And when Robin said, have any of you recently written something, I wouldn’t be surprised if
it was a condolence note. That is something that people do write. And yet, one woman that I talked to commented that she appreciated condolence notes she
got by email even more. What she said is, “They’re wonderfully comforting. I feel no obligation to respond, and in general, they’re more
feeling and less stilted than what people write on cards.” Another example about how using social media can actually be more intimate rather than less. And some of you may know uses of things like CaringBridge and
other, or group emails. And this is a way that I think social media can be extremely useful. Again, I talked yesterday about the requirement that
many women in particular have that you have to tell friends what’s going on, they need to know what’s going on in your
life or they’re gonna feel that you’ve let them down. Well if you’re going through a crisis, having to tell one person after another about what’s going on
can really be exhausting. So if you can use social media, either group emails or CaringBridge, it is a much more
effective way to do that. But I wanna conclude with what I think is maybe the most significant, in my view, one of the most significant ways that social media and
communication over social media have changed our lives and our world. There’s a way that I think it’s a totally different way of being in the world. In the past, the default
situation is that you’re alone. Unless there’s a person in front of you, or someone comes in
your sphere physically, maybe calls on the phone, maybe even you receive a letter. If it’s not one of those things, you’re basically alone. I have increasingly perceived, especially from my students, but maybe all of us too, that they’re never alone. They are always in an open
state of communication. If they are not available for texting, they need to let their friends know I’m not gonna be available, because the default case
is you are available. Your friends can get
through to you at any time. Again, this sense of absent presence. And I think that’s a very different way of being in the world. Being alone can have
very different meanings. It can be lonely. And I think that’s one of the wonderful things about social media. I think there’s a lot less loneliness. Because you can be in communication with people who aren’t there. But what you have less of us solitude. And solitude can be a very positive thing. So soul-searing loneliness
or soul-salving solitude. And we have to work harder
to get the solitude, whereas in the past, we had to work harder to get the sense that we’re
in communication with people. So that is what I think is really one of the major differences. So I’m gonna end, I just
have one more example that I’m gonna end with. And it’s another example of how some of the liabilities
of these social media are actually built into the medium itself. Again, an example brought in by a student. This was a texting exchange between his 13 year old brother and one of their cousins,
also a 13 year old, a girl. And this is how it went. She sent him a message, “hi wats up?” And he sent her a message, “nothing much. Wats up
with u? saints suck” “oh, ur upset about the football game” They lived in New Orleans so, you know, the New Orleans Saints. “oh, ur upset about the football game” “yeah I am, saints suck” “u already said that” “wat do u mean? saints suck” Are you beginning to
figure out what’s going on? “u said it again” “wat are u talking about? saints suck” “oh its ur signature” Many of us have signatures on our email, he apparently had a program that put a signature on his
texting, and he forgot. “wats my signature? saints suck” “nev mind. g2g moms here” “bye, saints suck” So I’ll end with that because it encapsulates, I think, in
a somewhat simplified way, but, we do have a whole
extra set of liabilities that we have to be attuned to, where metamessages that get sent might not be the ones we intended, and we might be missing
metamessages that are intended. So I’ll stop there, thank you. I think we have time for questions. – [Robin] We have time for questions. If people will come up to the mic and ask their questions there. – I relate to everything
that you’re saying about younger people, and I work in, happen to be an architectural firm, but I’m curious of how it translates from getting out of school, going
into the business world and how do you relate that difference for business communications that’s now broader, more generations sort of across the line,
and what that means. Or the misunderstandings
that now can occur, as well as being inappropriate in a way. – Yes, I do have a lot to say about that. Yes, I have heard a
lot about the confusion that people confront, again because there are
such different assumptions about what’s appropriate
and how you use it. And so many people ask me, I often get asked advice and I say I don’t give tips, I don’t know, but I get asked, is it appropriate to use smiley faces in the workplace? Is it appropriate to use exclamation points in the workplace? Some people think it is,
some people think it isn’t. And I’ll give you one example that I think is pretty chastening. I’ve written a lot about
what I call the double bind, that women in positions of
authority face a double bind, that is, two requirements,
either of which, both of which they have to fulfill, but anything they do to
fulfill one violates the other. And this is something that
Robin Lakoff wrote about years before I did. But in the workplace, and I wrote about this in a
book I wrote about the workplace called Talking From Nine to
Five: Women and Men at Work. I looked at women in the
highest positions of authority in the workplaces where I did my research, and if they were using language in a way that was authoritative, they were often not liked. If they were using language in a way that you expected of women, they were often underestimated. A woman that I interviewed,
actually for the friends book, happened in the course of our discussion to give me this example. She, I dunno, a few years out of college, she’s got a job, there’s an intern assigned to her in the
workplace, young man. And she worked with him
and was training him, and they seemed to be
having a nice relationship. And after they’d been
working together a few months they had one of these
conversations we often have, what did you think of me when
you first met me, you know. And he said, I thought you were a bitch. And she said, why? And he said, your emails. They were just right to the point. No exclamation points, no smileys. He had come to expect that from women. And because she hadn’t done it, And that’s something I often say, that women in the workplace know that one false move, and
there’s this word bitch that’s always hovering here, and one false move it’s stuck on us. So her comment to me
was that she said to him welcome to the world of work. But I was thinking, it’s also welcome to the world of work to her. The double bind that she was subjected to. So yes, this all presents new
challenged in the workplace. – Have these sorts of communications, foibles and conundrums attended every technological shift onto a
new communications platform? I’m thinking back as far as
the telegraph and morse code, would it have, you know, you wrote dot dot, did
you leave out a dash? – I’m sorry, so your question is? – Just if these sorts of, scrutiny, clarifications around communication have attended every migration onto a new communications platform. – Absolutely, absolutely. And something I have to say, that Robin has written
about very eloquently, at every stage, there’s a hue and cry, these new media destroying communications. And you know the details more than I do, but was it Aristotle that was
complaining about writing? Yeah I can’t hear, but you wanna go to the microphone and tell us? – Socrates was kind of the last generation of Athenians who were not
expected to be literate. And he sort of glorified this into, you know, I teach people
things by talking. And so he had a kid of theory that he would articulate from time to time about how if you put something in writing, if you become dependent on writing, that is, you don’t use
your memory anymore, you will not be Greek anymore, ’cause you won’t have
that thing in your head, you will have to go to
the library and get it. Or you’ll have to go to Google and get it. So you know, he was, he felt, he professed, there’s this Socratic irony, he professed to be frightened of literacy. I have a sneaky feeling in my mind that he knew perfectly
well how to read and write. This was just a bunch of
shtick, he was so good at. – Thank you, yeah, quite parallel. You know, kids are gonna be ruined because they’re doing this, they should be talking face to face. And Socrates thinking,
you’re all gonna be ruined ’cause your writing, you
should use your heads. So yeah, I think there’s
always this fear of the new. Yeah. – Thanks so much, I’ve
been such a fan of yours from your PhD thesis, and you’ve made an incredible difference in my life as a New Yorker living here. En expatriate New Yorker, now I don’t get, I’m losing my sense of
sarcasm when I go to New York. But at any rate, you said that you could lecture a lot more on “ha ha.” And I’m a little confused about “ha ha” and “lol” with my younger friends. Yes, yeah, so I have my students bring in every instance they encounter of some variation of laughter. One thing is clear, lol
does not mean laughing. It can mean all kinds of other things, but it’s not laughter. And various versions of ha, haha, hahaha, the number of “ha”s that you have, often just means, I don’t
mean what I said literally. It doesn’t mean I’m literally laughing. It means I don’t mean it seriously, don’t take this at face value. And this has also gender differences. They brought in, in my class, this class is mostly women but I had a number of
young men in the class, and they had written on the board all the things that mean laughter. And I said, are there
any others we’ve missed? And this young man got up and puts “lmao,” laughing my ass off. And then all kinds of things
with the letter F in it. Which the girls didn’t
use, but the guys did. So yeah, there were gender differences. But a lot of it, I think it basically comes down to, do I mean
what I say literally, or do I want you to realize that I’m saying it tongue in cheek. And that’s the big challenge with seeing things on the screen. Teasing, you can be insulted. It can happen face to face too. Somebody means it to be teasing and you take it literally
and you’re offended. But it’s a real risk there. – And equally so with
the lol and the hahaha. – Well the lol of course
was one of the first ones that was pointed out to
me as a gender difference. So you know, a young woman
rights about something terrible that’s bothering her, and her mother rights
sympathy and then says lol. By which the mother meant lots of love. But you don’t say laughing out loud, for the kids lol was laughing out loud. But I think it has morphed, and it isn’t really
about laughter anymore. It’s just one more way to signal, don’t take this literally. – Thanks so much for
speaking, first of all. I guess a question I
have is, well I have two, but I’ll just do the first
one first and then we’ll see. So I did a project on speech
in people, well I guess, the corpus of Tinder
biographies of millennials. – Corpus of what? – Tinder biographies, like the dating app. And one of the biggest challenges I had was that there’s so
much visual information in people’s photographs and in emoji use. And so I guess I was wondering, you mentioned the use of sort of, emojis, emoticon, bitmoji, memes, and how do you compensate for that or accommodate for that when so much of corpus
linguistics analysis is so like, quantitative, which is part of why I like it. Because it’s quite easy
to sift through things, but when images come into play, it really kind of messes with my data. And so, I guess a question would be, how do you accommodate for
that in doing your work? – Yeah, corpus linguistics is a very very burgeoning field right now. And it’s an amazing capability. You can get millions of words, data, and find answers that you know. I give you examples from a couple people, you gotta take my word for it that this is more widespread. And I trust you. Does it ring true? If it rings true, maybe
there’s something to it. If you say, I’ve never
seen anything like that, maybe I got a weird example. So corpus linguistics is great that way. But I don’t think it is capable of identifying these subtleties. So I think we need both. There are certain kinds of questions that can be addressed that
way and others that can’t. I guess my concern is, there’s a tendency to do
the things you can do. And that’s my one concern, that as corpus linguistics
and computational methods become more and more widespread, we won’t be asking the questions that have to be answered this way. Could call it a case study
method or microanalysis. But I think we need both. – And then I guess, perhaps this, you’ve just answered this potentially, but I guess, do you think that the changes you’ve seen like the one you just described with lol initially meaning I’m actually laughing to meaning just sort of, I’m amused, do you think there’s any sort of language change analyses
that can be applied to the corpus of text-based speech. – What a great question. Maybe you’ll figure one out. You can ask questions
like, where does it appear? And this is something that has been done, they tend to appear where punctuation would have appeared in the past. So in some ways, lol and hahaha are just like punctuation. ‘Cause you don’t put a period at the end, but you put haha at the
end or lol at the end. And it functions a bit like punctuation. So you can ask, computationally,
where does it appear? You could ask, I guess, what sorts of verbs does it appear after? You can ask questions like that. – Actually, I found something similar in my Tinder biography thing, I found that people used
emojis in place of a period. – Thank you. – Okay, thank you. – Thank you, this was quite wonderful. So, I’m thinking about intimacy, and what – Can you talk louder
and get the mic closer? – Thinking about intimacy. So I’m a therapist as
well as other things, and so I think a lot about that. And it’s a theme in
what you were describing that is intriguingly deep and complex, about what represents intimacy. And as I was standing, waiting, I was reminded of Marshall McLuhan’s cool and warm media, years ago. – What was the last thing you said? – Marshall McLuhan’s cool
media and warm media. – Oh yes yes yes. – And these new technological ones seem to be cooler media. Not necessarily less intimate, different. So if we choose to be more available, which means texting, what does that mean? Does that mean I’m being more
available or less available? If I choose to do a phone
call because I can talk now but I can’t do Facetime
because there’s other stuff, is that being more
intimate or less intimate? And there’s so much room, because there’s less data, for misinterpretation on the one hand, or for, potentially for connection, because I’m more involved. Like the “hey.” The recipient of hey has to spend much more time trying to understand who that person is and
what they’re communicating that if it were going on in person. So for those of us of my generation it’s interesting to think
about the subtleties of it. A, B, in doing therapy, I do have, as many of us probably have, the experience of someone talking to me about their relationship, and this terrible argument that they had with their boyfriend or girlfriend, where she said this and I said that, and I couldn’t believe she said this and so I said that. And it takes me a while to get it, that this was all texting. – Yeah yeah yeah. – So, thank you. So any thoughts about the complexity of intimacy in the new world? – Yes yes, and all these observations are very significant and helpful. I guess the one thing I would say is that there’s no one answer,
that it can be done, kind of like what I said, it can be more intimate and
it can be less intimate. Yeah, it’s a cool medium, but Marshall McLuhan was
thinking of television. These things go right into your face, and in a way, what could
be more intimate than that? You could be in the
most personal situation, and here’s this message right there. And it can be different
things for different people. So I think the crucial thing is to look at how it is being used by these people in this context, and ask, is it being more intimate or less intimate in this way. So some people maybe would find better communication if they occasionally backed off and texted or emailed. And other people have
to just put that aside and just talk to each other face to face. And maybe it’s doing it differently than you did it before that might be some sort of a breakthrough. But I guess my strongest feeling is that there’s no one way to look at it, and to be really cautious about how we respond to other people’s uses of these media because their sense of it may
be different from ours. Thank you.

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