Tone of Voice in Online Communicating

The idea of having an online tone of voice is something I remember discussing back when I was doing my social technologies course – the idea that we get around the inherent problems of text only communication by developing a ‘tone of voice’ through the way we write. Of course, this isn’t exactly new to the internet age, books, articles and other writings have always been described as having ‘tone’ -serious, light hearted, satirical  – but in some ways it’s much harder to create that tone when using online communication. I feel like there is a clear distinction between writing an article ‘this is what is think/feel’ even if it’s very personal and first person, and writing a tweet or update, which is you speaking, but in text.
Tone of voice when talking to people online has been on my mind a lot lately. I recently did a month’s work placement at a marketing company where part of my responsibilities included updating their twitter and writing blogposts for their website. Getting the hang of the ‘tone’ they wanted for the posts was surprisingly hard for me, as I’ve always thought of myself as a decent writer. It had to be colloquial and friendly, no long words, no long sentences. It was completely different to the way that I write and speak, and made me feel almost like I was acting.
Getting back to my original topic, the biggest problem of this text communication is that tone of voice conveys so much about our thoughts, regardless of what we actually say. Despite the huge variety of languages, and the sheer size of our vocabulary (the oxford dictionary estimates that there may be around a quarter of a million distinct words in the English language, and there are certainly many more variation and slang terms) it is hard to put your exact thought and feelings on a topic in the 140 characters of a tweet. This can lead to so many misunderstandings, especially if people are using twitter with such spontaneity – from thoughts on their personal lives to feelings on a breaking news topic. How can you telling if someone is joking? Slightly upset? Passive aggressive?
It’s interesting how we have developed mechanisms to help with this. Emoticons and their recent graphically updated successors Emojis help – Facebook even added the ‘Feeling {}’ to statuses, where you can add a mood and a emoticon to the end of a status. Even on systems where these aren’t available such as message boards or comment sections, people have naturally developed systems to help convey their tone, although it says a lot about the content of many such posts that the most common ones are those used to indicate sarcasm, from the simple ‘/s’ at the end of a post, to the ‘/kappa’ beloved more of sites such as reddit and 4chan, and it’s possibly because of the content of those sites that I have always interpreted ‘/kappa’ to be more aggressive, possible ruder tone.
In some ways, the internet has started to move away from solely text-based communication, now that we have so many ways to send videos/photos/audio etc. (see Snapchat and similar services). However, we musn’t forget that these aren’t always available to everyone yet – PEW Internet has great statistics on how many people in the world have smartphone/computer access (note that the website is quite America-centric, but there are also global stats) while text-based messaging is and always been global. So, until next time, 🙂