October 1996

Root Page of Article: Feeling Between the Lines, by Joyce Menges


It is not possible to make grand generalizations about extraverbal communication in cyberspace on the basis of this present work. The data is too specifically tied to me and my experiences. Even the demographic characteristics of the NGT participants are skewed in favor of the people with whom I live and work, virtually, and cannot possibly be held up and a truly representative sample of the population. The nominal groups have confirmed, however, that my experiences have been commonly shared among the participants. I submit that this makes the present work an adequate foundation for further study and I offer it as such.

There are other significant difficulties not yet addressed. In particular, I think veracity is a problem. How can one know with certainty what another person is really like or what he is really thinking in these virtual exchanges? The simple answer is: you cannot. Even in face-to-face communication there are no absolutes about nonverbal clues and no one can interpret even the most obvious of clues perfectly. However, time and experience are great teachers in both venues and can, I believe, lead to very accurate interpretations.

All of this virtual communication has relied upon the speaker's facility with words. An inability to type, a language or cultural barrier, or low skills in expressing oneself textually are hurdles to be overcome in computer mediated communication and not everyone is up to the task. Undoubtly anyone working from these deficits will be misunderstood on occasion. Practiced virtual communicators will, however, recognize this and adapt.

For this work, I have looked at only the most obvious devices. What of the more subtle devices employed in virtual communication of personality and emotions? In particular, I am fascinated by the way people dress themselves virtually. Just as a uniform can tell you much about the wearer, an IRC ^ nickname can, seemingly, reveal a great deal about the person using it. Examining this one subtle message-sender could easily hold my attention for a significant period of study. --

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