In my last post I talked about the challenges many creatives face in promoting their own work, particularly if their core personality type is rather introverted (and I include myself in that category). Of all the avenues open for promoting the Internet is the most accessible but also often proves to be unexpectedly challenging and frustrating, even to the point of being demotivating.
I have spoken before about my initial skepticism and even rejection of the Internet when I first came in contact with it back in the 90s. Curiosity and my innate fascination with technology overcame such feelings rather quickly, only to be greeted with a sense of uncertainty and unease interacting online with others in the early AOL and chatroom days. What was an exciting frontier of new possibilities and instant communication with people from around the world every so often turned sour due to misunderstandings.
It became obvious to me, and many others, that just typing text in a box was lacking an important element which I call “emotional feedback”. Words are the fundamental expressions of human thoughts and feelings. If we want to preserve our thoughts we write them down. Words carry on through centuries, even millennia. Prior to the dominance of electronic communication writing involved more deliberation as putting words down on paper or parchment needed patience and a steady hand for legibility. But it was also possible to give those words character by varying pen pressure and direction, altering the overall appearance of letters. It was a way of compensating in some ways for the lack of in person communication, an inherently preferred way of human interaction. These days however we resort to typing. And while I very much appreciate the ability to quickly jot down important thoughts and ideas I can’t help but recognize the inherent flaws. While being constraint to a consistent font type dramatically improves legibility it also prevents me from imbuing those words with distinct character.
It is certainly not a new dilemma. The invention of mass printing has carried similar drawbacks albeit having one major advantage over computer screens: the tactility of paper. There is something to touch, hold and feel. Another sense is engaged other than simply seeing the words. In addition printed words were usually more carefully placed and thought through, not least by their authors often handwriting their articles or manuscripts first. Then there is the important aspect of paper reflecting light rather than emitting it like a screen. At first this may not seem relevant, or even obvious, but the strain our eyes experience when looking at a light emitting device is significantly higher compared to looking at a page under adequate lighting. The impact of reading on-screen vary by person but often manifest in easier eye fatigue, headaches and an overall feeling of unease, which in turn affects our perception of the words read.
For the reasons given above I believe that words on paper have a perceptively higher provision of emotional feedback than words on a screen. I am apparently not alone as the invention of emoticons years back seems to support that observation. In an effort to imbue our electronic writings with a sense of how those words are supposed to be read people began inserting characters resembling human expressions: : ) | : ( | :]) | :*(. For someone not familiar with emoticons it may be confusing at first but the expressions become obvious after a while, such as smiling, frowning, laughing and crying. Indeed, I use several of them quite frequently when chatting with family members. Though if that familiarity is not given it feels rather awkward to make use of emoticons. And they certainly are frowned upon (pun intended) in any form of professional communication.
Considering my case for emotional feedback, and the lack thereof in much of our online communication, it becomes apparent that especially introverted creatives struggle with online self promotion. I, and many others, confess to having a much easier time, and higher success rate, talking to someone in person. This is certainly most natural as face-to-face communication offers the highest level of emotional feedback. While thoughts are conveyed with immediacy it is the amount of facial expressions and the body language of and the feeling perceived around the person we’re talking to that provides all important information as to how the conversation is progressing. We can instantly react to arising challenges and clarify misunderstandings. Behavioral rules affect how we talk, act and carry ourselves. All of this is usually sorely missing from any form of written online communication, not least due to a lack of accountability.
The case I present here is certainly not based on empirical data or scientific research but simply on personal observation. Though I do encourage you to verify it for yourself by reading any email you received recently on screen and then printing it out and reading it in your favorite spot. Observe your own emotional perception. You may be surprised as to the difference in interpretation of the email.
I find it important to consider that emotional feedback is essential in communicating with others and therefore keep the various drawbacks of online interactions in mind. I will always prefer and seek out in-person dialogues while trying to make the best use of the possibilities of online interactions.