October 1996

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


Communication is the fundamental requirement for success in personal and professional endeavors of all kinds, at all levels (Chadwick & Lind, 1996, p. 57). Arguably, this simple statement is true; if we cannot know each other we cannot succeed. Chadwick and Lind were addressing their remarks to high school students preparing for admission to technical programs of study and beyond to entry into the work force, but their words surely hold true for the rest of us. Given this, what do we need to know in order to succeed in our interactions within the emerging connections made possible by the growth of electronic communication? While effective communication is often a significant challenge in face-to-face human interaction, some would argue that it is severely restricted, perhaps even crippled, by technology. My purpose in undertaking the work following has been to discover and describe one vital and seemingly elusive (non-existent?) aspect of the process of human intercourse in the textual environments of electronic communication, namely the implied messages of extraverbal communication in cyberspace.

Consider the concept of lines of communication. The military once struggled to keep lines of communication open with semaphores. We speak metaphorically of reading the messages between the lines. And, of course, innumerable messages travel phone lines daily. In the text-based world of cyberspace, where human communication transpires without benefit of the physical presence of the participants, are there lines of communication that transcend the written words exchanged? Are there messages lurking between the lines of text? Does communication in the ^ synchronous virtual spaces of Multi-User Object Oriented ( ^ MOO) environments and the other forms of Internet chatting permit extraverbal pointers to emotions and attitudes? If so, what are the most significant ways humans express and perceive feelings in cyberspace? What follows is a narrative outlining my first attempt to answer these questions. (1) --

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