And I don’t mean in a joke falling flat.
Or maybe I do. If a joke falls flat at the wrong time in the wrong way, relationships can be damaged or even end. I’ve seen it happen and I’ve had it happen.
Social media makes it more likely and easier. I see two main reasons why. I’m not going to provide any background for either reason. I’ve done a little reading on things (and I imagine a lot of people have) and what I’ve read has me convinced of the reasonability of both. New information could certainly change my mind, but this is where I’m landing right now.
First, emotional context. Text-only communication is easily misinterpreted for intent and tone. People’s minds add tone to what they see written and that tone can be different depending on the mood they’re in. Emoji don’t always help, but they might. Tone indicators don’t always help, but they might.
Second, humans have this tendency to see online interactions as less real than face to face (and by face to face I mean something that involves audiovisual or at least audio) and so the person on the other end of that interaction is less real as a result.
The second one is easier to work against than the first. Once you actively remember that you’re communicating with a real person who deserves you remembering that they are, in fact, a real person, you’re more likely to think about how what you’re about to type will be interpreted. But it is an active process, at least for me. Reacting is easy. Considering your response before you hit enter is harder.
The first one, though, is a whole different kettle of wax. To paraphrase, “I know you think you understand what you thought I wrote but I’m not sure you realize that what you read is not what I meant.” Which I think was meant to be a humorous statement but it leaves out the important point that when you don’t communicate clearly, what you communicate is going to be misunderstood. The onus on understanding rests with the person making the statement, and when the only emotional context comes from the words you choose to write, you need to pick the right words every time.
When you’re making a joke or trying to be funny, that’s critical.
Several years ago, I very innocently tried to be funny in a way that was designed (I thought) to give someone more confidence in their own decisions. It was clever, off the cuff, funny (I thought), and completely bereft of any provided emotional context outside of the words themselves. Which were not understood how I meant them. Which means I failed in my attempt to communicate that confidence and obviously came across as breaking Wheaton’s Law.
I found myself immediately locked out of the ongoing conversation on social media. Moments later, I was blocked or unfriended on all the social media we had in common. No response to my attempted direct messages or text. (For that last, it’s possible I had an out-of-date phone number. They’re someone I only tended to see in person every couple of years.) No contact since.
At this point, I don’t even remember exactly what I wrote, only the intent behind it that I failed to communicate.
There are moments I remember and regret.
Consider that life is too short to learn from only your own mistakes.
Be well, everyone.by