October 1996

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


As I have said, this work has arisen out of my personal experiences in cyberspace and my own need to better understand what I knew intuitively; there is more to human communication in cyberspace than the mere words of conversation. As I have worked and played in this virtual place I have witnessed learning and intellectual discourse, commerce of every imaginable ilk, the social interaction of strangers and friends, enemies and lovers, and chatter, idle and otherwise. In that time I have come to know that human communication across the lines of the Internet can be rich with extraverbal clues to emotion and attitude.

Consider the following exchange:

[Joyce] I have to go shortly to prepare for that.
[Joyce] I have had my nose in my computer all morning
[Joe] i can see the smudge on the screen, yes indeedie.
[Joyce] hehe, no way!
[Joyce] here, let me fix it...
[Joyce] *wipe wipe*
[Joe] yes you did... well... i would love to keep you here for ever, but i think if i had my choice.. i would feel better knowing you had sufficient time Joyce to prepare, even if that meant not spending a few more minutes with you.
[Joe] all that to say...
[Joyce] it's ok if I go even tho you want me to stay? :)
[Joyce] *grin*
[Joe] words mean things, as you and I know... and i can't give you a wink or a tone or a facial smile to let you know it's fine to go... so I have to say it in a way I am convinced the meaning gets through the smudge still on my screen, :).
(J. Subjak, personal communication, 2-3-96)

Unintentionally here, my friend Joe has verbalized one of the primary ways people express their feelings in the virtual realm; they talk about them. But the exchange also reveals other devices that are typically found in conversations of this type. Actually, the Nominal Group participants identified at least a dozen distinct ways in which people interact extraverbally. Of course there were many devices mentioned during the group process and probably no one particular participant would subscribe to the following list just as it stands, but I believe it is an accurate reflection of the collective groups' best ideas and it does echo my own experiences. (See Appendix D for a comprehensive summary of NGT results.) The NGT participants identified five significant ways they believe people express and perceive extraverbal communication in cyberspace: ^ emotes, word choice, punctuation, ^ emoticons and capital letters. A discussion of these follows. --

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