Students struggle to convey sarcasm on AIM

Lauren Frankovich

Brad Washburn could be happy, sad, excited or annoyed. And as he talks — types, actually — the individual on the other end doesn’t know the difference.

When people communicate face-to-face, it’s easy to distinguish different emotions, but when people communicate online, it can be hard to decipher between emotions, resulting in confusion.

“You can’t always express emotions with just words. You need some sort of facial expression,” said Washburn, a junior integrated social studies major.

Problems can arise when people communicate online and try to use, for example, sarcasm, said Nichole Egbert, assistant professor in the School of Communication Studies.

Aubourne Garchar, freshman nursing major, said it is hard to tell if someone is using sarcasm online because one can’t see facial expressions. She also said it is difficult to show emotion because she can type what she feels, but the text can be misinterpreted.

Marci Mahar, freshman justice studies major, said it can be difficult to use sarcasm and make jokes online because people can’t see the reaction. Mahar said she tells her friends if she is using sarcasm or making a joke to avoid any communication errors.

“I’ll just come right out and say it,” she said, to avoid confusion.

Problems can also originate when people type in all capital letters, Egbert said. Some people like the way it looks, but it should be avoided because people may take offense, she said.

Capital letters can be used to convey extreme emotion or to prove a point, Washburn said.

Mahar also said people often type in all capital letters when they are mad.

Emoticons, or smiley faces, can be used to avoid confusion, Egbert said. According to Webster’s Dictionary an emoticon is a “symbolic picture made from keyboard characters.”

America Online lets you “insert emotions” into conversations by using different emoticons, Egbert said. Soon, there will be more ways to display emotion online because technology is constantly improving, she said.

Garchar uses emoticons when she talks to her friends to convey her emotions. She either uses the traditional yellow smiley faces or vegetable-shaped smiley faces.

Mahar also said she uses a variety of emoticons when she talks to her friends online to avoid communication errors.

Women are more likely to use smiley faces and are more creative with smiley faces, Mahar said.

“Guys are more plain,” she said.

Sometimes the emoticons can be used in place of text, Mahar said.

When an instant message starts with “Hey!,” it indicates someone is going to tell her something important, Garchar said.

Mahar said when she receives an instant message that includes an exclamation point, it seems like her friends are more interested in talking.

Abbreviations such as “LOL” (laughing out loud) can also be used to avoid communication errors, Egbert said. Mahar said she prefers not to use “LOL,” but said she types other things so her friends know she is laughing.

Another way to avoid confusion is to make the message clear, Egbert said. Text can be misinterpreted, so the meaning should be clarified.

Students should be polite and make messages clear when they e-mail professors, Egbert said, so that they are more likely to receive positive results, she said.

When she e-mails her professors, Mahar said she is more formal.

Garchar said she uses slang in e-mails to her friends but avoids using it when she e-mails her professors.

Egbert uses smiley face emoticons when she sends e-mails to her students if the e-mail sounds too harsh, she said. She prefers to talk to students in person because it is better for building a relationship.

“E-mail isn’t a Band-Aid for common problems,” she said.

Contact transportation reporter Lauren Frankovich at [email protected].