As an English nut, I can’t begin to fully explain my love for words. They are, to be obvious, the lifeblood of our language. Nouns, verbs, adverbs – the webs and worlds that words can create are magnificent. Any author could tell you that. And any good reader should be able to confirm the notion.
But it’s been something of a bonus learning that words not only govern men, but also construct personalities. By this I do not mean to suggest that words are the entire makeup of our characters. Actions, thoughts, relationships, givings and takings – all of those are important parts of who we are as well.
But take the rise of online connections, where words have become the first face of who we are. Like an e-mail to a stranger: it simply doesn’t offer the possibility for my full character. Instead, I rely on my words to create both me, as a person, and me as a request for information, response or whatever it was that I may be e-mailing about.
Simply put, words are who I am. Online, that is.
Research has taken this point a bit further. It suggests that our decisions to use certain words – whether the decision is conscious or unconscious – are representative of who we are and what mental state we are in. Increased use of certain pronouns can suggest loneliness or happiness. The simple expression “I think”, when added before a statement, means more than simply the creation of an opinion. It suggests you’re more focused on yourself than someone who may present the phrase as a statement. People that use “I’ more often, perhaps even as little as 1% more in total vocabulary used, are considered more depressive than others.
The research is interesting to me because, well, words are interesting to me. But it presents something further. And I think it meshes perfectly with a conversation I recently had. Allow me to explain.
The conversation was discussing a certain e-mail I had been sent. The commentary then turned into the point that that person was “a bad e-mailer” and then, further, that some people just weren’t themselves in e-mail. Meaner or nicer, the person that I talked to on the phone or over Skype was just simply a bit different than the e-mails made him/her out to be.
Of course, the idea of a good or bad e-mailer is a complete testament to the notion of how we use and interpret words and phrases. Even the kindest heart can turn into a cold responder by using certain phrases or words in certain contexts.
Simply put, words are powerful and that power is stretched further when words are all we have to rely on. E-mailing has given words a new pedestal. Texting and tweeting have taken that pedestal and given it a challenge to shorten and simplify while still creating the same effect. It’s for that reason that I often change a seemingly insignificant word in a short text to a friend. I’m worried I’ll come off short or curt, even though texting itself is short and curt.
The idea is a bit dangerous – words being such an impactful force on who you are, in e-mail. It becomes an important tool be able write well enough to convey the emotion you intend. And it points to a counterintuitive force of our times – just as the standards of conversation are peeled away by social media outlets, words themselves become ever potent forces from thousands of miles away.
My suggestion – work on email language construction. Or have an assistant do it for you. Either way, you’ll want to focus on what you say and write to make sure you’re conveying what you want to be. Otherwise, you may end up being an entirely different person or seeming like it. And, with online conversation, there’s really no difference.