What just happened? We were just talking!

As someone who’s been around computer technology since my teen years, I remember a day before the internet. A day before Windows. A day before digital communication.

That’s what I want you to read, “A day before digital communication.”

In the early days of digital communication, a new phenomenon was born. Some of us called it flaming – a situation when a casual conversation became emotional enflamed and blew up into something those involved didn’t intend.

How did that happen? We were just talking.

There were a lot of reasons for this, but one reason was because without nonverbal cues, some of us tend to read a conversation with an emotional tone that matches our own feelings at the moment.

It happened all the time, at first.

Good friends were suddenly estranged.

I’ve seen seeds of this returning with the advent of the coronavirus: Good people being disrespectful and short with one another in digital conversations. I feel like they don’t even know why it’s happening.

Beyond the long standing reason for flaming, there are a couple other causes in place right now.

First, whether you want to admit it or not this is a stressful time to be alive. There are a lot of worries. If you enter into a conversation with someone without the aid of nonverbal cues and you’re feeling worried and stressed, you will think they are stressed. You will suppose they are worried. You will assume they are what you are.

Second, for many this is the most they have ever communicated via digital text. Sure, they’ve texted. But now they’re communicating about things that may be a little more important than “What’s for dinner?” So when someone types that there there’s no toilet paper left at Walmart, the reader is left to ascribe an emotion to those benign characters. If he’s already stressed out, he will likely assume that the sender is stressed out and angry.

If you’re getting stressed out and angry reading this, that’s on you. I’m not that guy. At least not in this blog post. 🙂

Think back over some of the digital conversations you’ve had on social media, WhatsApp, Signal, group chats, email, and other text-based communications. Did you come across the way you intended? Were you misunderstood? Did you misunderstand someone else?

Or did you think someone was stressed out when they were simply asking a question? Did you ascribe your emotions to someone else and find difficulty in the communication as a result?

How can you avoid that next time?

Maybe take a moment and pray before you type.

Or at least think before you hit send.

That’s how the digital pioneers managed these situations.

We can probably do the same.