Sunday, March 22, 2009

Communications Conundrum

When I was a little girl, one of my grandmothers lived in California, 3000 miles from me. Most of my communication with her was in the form of letters--thank you notes, mostly, since we certainly didn't have a friendly, chatty relationship. And she was a lady of unbending formality, at least with me. And my mother was obsessive. So, sitting down to write a letter to her was something to be dreaded and gotten through.

I can still remember using a lined piece of paper behind my plain white linen stationery--no Holly Hobby notecards for this occasion, no pencil. Fountain pen only, cursive as soon as I could manage it. Each line had to be straight, no erasures or strikeouts, no sentences improperly punctuated. If I had to write it six times for it to be perfect, that was the way it was. 

Those experiences follow us through life and I'm afraid it has colored my use of the formal note--I have to force myself to send the notes I owe in life, not because I'm not appreciative of the person I'm addressing but because I dread the criticism for the format.

Contrast this with the messages I get from my grands. A recent text from one of the boys began "yo, dude."  A thank you might come in the form of a quick hug as the kid runs off to play a game, or a phone call or a text message. Now that's communication. I get the message--he likes me, and is comfortable communicating with me. My grandmother is probably whirling in her grave. With her white gloves and hat firmly in place.

But my communication style is also molded by my working and school experience. I'm a master of the formal research paper or the technical manual or the article to be published. I'm great at editing other people's writing to ensure proper grammar, punctuation, consistency of style and footnotes. In fact, I mentally edit billboards as I drive the highways, checking for wrongly placed apostrophes or improper use of the plural.

So this whole world of social networking is confusing to me, and a difficult road to maneuver.

I've been on the message boards for some 15 or 20 years now, almost since the beginning.  (And, no, I didn't meet Al Gore there.) I've adapted my writing style in those forums to be less formal, more chatty, while at the same time trying to avoid those email boo-boos that come from the accidental insult. (I'm not very good at using emoticons but am fond of the occasional "he he" to indicate that my caustic comment is intended to be humorous, not a visceral insult to someone's ancestry.)

I'm on three major networking venues, one professional (LinkedIn), and two strictly social (Ravelry and Facebook).  (Thank God, my own sensibilities have so far prevented me from the indignities of a MySpace page.) LinkedIn, being a professional networking site, continues to be a little formal because we are, let's face it, looking at each other as potential workmates or employees. 

On Ravelry, there's an edginess with a sense of humor. Because we all have knitting, or at least fiber, in common, we tend to mostly cut each other some slack, and the listowners are fairly strict about keeping negativity to a dull roar. Even so, sometimes it feels a little like middle school, where someone is shunned in the cafeteria because she wore the wrong clothes to school.

But Facebook is new, uncharted territory to me. First off, if there are any controls at all, I'm not aware of them. Second, the people on it are ... well, they're not classifiable. They're my children, my children's friends, my friends, the people I went to high school with (and by the way, I didn't like you then, why am I talking to you now?), my coworkers, neighbors, and people I don't know at all but who somehow are linked to some of the folks listed above. Probably the guy who sold me my vacuum cleaner is there if I look for him.  We're all linked by ... something. And third, the content is ... well, it's anything at all.

Some of the information on it is interesting and vital--my nephew and niece-in-law are having a baby! my former neighbor child is running for public office! another former neighbor child's own child has been accepted to his college of choice! That's all good stuff and I love it. Facebook is a great way to keep in touch with people you don't see often and never would hear about otherwise. No wonder folks in the old west felt so isolated, when the pony express might take weeks or months to get a message out. Now it's over the net in a nano-second. 

But still I'm struggling with my communication style. Here's a simulated, but typical exchange for me:

Other Person (OP): Wow! Ms B! Yur hear! Its gud 2 see u! Wot up?

Me:  Yes, thank you for expressing such kind words on the occasion of the launching of my personification on Facebook. Your felicitations are kindly regarded and extremely welcome.

OP: Wot?

It makes me feel like Jane Austen listening to rap.

I've obviously still got some work ahead of me, but I'm on it. Bear with me, please, dude.


Sheri said...

Hey, Dudette, what up? Yeah, I get it too, but I'm determined to try to keep up with the kids so I never have to hear one of mine or a grandchild say "oh, she's old fashioned, she doesn't do that." Nope, I'm on it; facebook, ravelry, my space, whatever my kids tell me about, I'm there. No-one has mentioned Twitter yet, but I'm sure that's next.

B c'in ya.

Sheri :o)

Janice in GA said...

There are some privacy settings in Facebook you probably need to tweak. Here's one site with some suggestions:

I'm fairly new to Facebook. The one benefit it's had for me is enabling me to connect with some folks I'd totally lost touch with. The rest of it (quizzes, tags, etc) is stuff I've been doing on blogs for years now, so it just seems silly on Facebook, especially since so many of them want access to your profile.

But I'm suspicious and paranoid by nature. :)

Janice in GA said...

Here's another link with a little more info: