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Emotional Feedback

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.

4 Comments on "Emotional Feedback"

  • Well written.  I agree with your state­ment that emo­tional feed­back is essen­tial in com­mu­ni­ca­tion with others.  I pre­fer the face-to-face, and one-on-one con­ver­sa­tion, but I must admit, for me, an extro­vert (which I ques­tion some­times myself, but proven wrong by Myers-Briggs — where I tested and twice received the same result “E” for extro­vert — ESFJ to be exact), I find myself in con­ver­sa­tion, stum­bling to con­vey my point with words — I’m not well-spoken, I guess.  Some­times, I find it eas­ier to be able to get my point across in writ­ing — which I think con­tra­dicts the “E.“  But if I had to point out an exam­ple of emo­tional feed­back, I think of Holly Becker and Decor8 (which btw is how I landed here — via Holly’s tweet).  I felt like I got a good sense of “who” Holly was through read­ing her blog, but then I took her BYW e-course and when I actu­ally HEARD her voice on her pod­casts, you can hear the sin­cer­ity and kind­ness in her voice — which impacted the way I felt about her pes­on­al­ity and her lessons.  So, yes, emo­tional feed­back is key.


  • Thank you so much for email­ing me your com­ment Cecilia and for let­ting me know of the issues with the com­ment box! I had made some style changes in a pre­vi­ous ver­sion and they appar­ently didn’t carry over to the new one. I did not noticed it since it wasn’t obvi­ous while I was logged in (a logged in user always has their infor­ma­tion pre-filled).

    You bring up a cru­cial point for every writer to con­sider: the writer’s voice. Find­ing your voice is a key point in Holly’s Blog­ging Your Way class and is some­thing that war­rants spe­cial atten­tion on the web. Due to the lack of phys­i­cal inter­ac­tion and the essen­tial emo­tional infor­ma­tion derived from it it can be much more entic­ing to take on an alter­nate per­sona. This is cer­tainly not unique to the web, it hap­pens in print as well, but the nature of the online envi­ron­ment does encour­age it more.

    Part of the rea­son why I wrote this post was Holly’s own expe­ri­ence dur­ing her book tour. Many of those com­ing to her sign­ings expressed that she is the same in per­son as what they per­ceived online and that it made them feel happy to know that. And even if it’s not pos­si­ble to get that face-to-face inter­ac­tion any psy­chi­cal com­po­nent (emo­tional feed­back) can pro­vide con­fir­ma­tion of first impres­sions such as hear­ing someone’s voice as you related.

    Also, your feel­ings of get­ting your point across eas­ier at times through writ­ing is mutu­ally shared. I don’t believe it con­tra­dicts the E type per­son­al­ity as impor­tant ideas and feel­ings often require time to find the right words to express them fully. In that regard writ­ing to me is akin to com­pos­ing music — a com­plex piece needs time to war­rant full emo­tional impact (think sym­phony). An impromptu piece can have much emo­tional impact as well but it depends on the venue and thus the com­fort level. So do conversations.

    Thank you again Cecelia for shar­ing your thoughts, I thor­oughly enjoyed read­ing them.

  • Kat says

    Hi Thorsten,
    I came by via Holly’s men­tion on FB today. I always enjoy your in depth pieces of writ­ing. You have such a com­mand of Eng­lish. I was won­der­ing though if you find hav­ing to com­mu­ni­cate in a lan­guage that isn’t your first, hin­ders you with emo­tional com­mu­ni­ca­tion in any­way?
    It cer­tainly isn’t obvi­ous that Eng­lish isn’t your first lan­guage but I just won­dered because obvi­ously lit­tle expres­sions and say­ings will be dif­fer­ent from lan­guage to lan­guage. I know I would find it much harder to express through French or ger­man say, than through English.

    I agree with the dif­fi­culty that using text alone can cause when try­ing to be your­self online. I think it’s much eas­ier to feel the energy of a per­son in a let­ter because its phys­i­cally been in their hand.
    How­ever I think online com­mu­ni­ca­tion can still be imbued with our own unique­ness and impart feel­ings and sin­cer­ity to the reader of your writ­ing.
    It takes per­haps a dif­fer­ent kind of tun­ing in, but with Holly’s work fir exam­ple and many other blog­gers I love, their per­son­al­ity and char­ac­ter and energy is felt very much through their online pres­ence. Maybe it comes down to know­ing our selves well and hav­ing a dis­tinct & cer­tain voice as a result — then it comes through to oth­ers stronger, break­ing down any bar­ri­ers, dis­olv­ing dis­tance and is felt in-between the words we write.
    Thank you for this time to reflect,
    Kat x

  • Hello Kat. Thank you very much for your visit and com­ment. I hope you’re doing well. And thank you for com­ple­ment­ing my Eng­lish, I really appre­ci­ate it! Over the years, espe­cially liv­ing in the US, Eng­lish has become my sec­ond nature. That’s rather curi­ous con­sid­er­ing that I didn’t like Eng­lish in school. I was actu­ally pretty bad (usu­ally a Ger­man 4 or 5, US equiv­a­lent D,E, not sure about UK). I just couldn’t con­nect with it. The prob­lem was that there was no real incen­tive to learn. I think most peo­ple find it dif­fi­cult to learn a lan­guage when they see no use­ful appli­ca­tion of it.

    How­ever, once I got out of school my Eng­lish improved due to work­ing in IT. And once I got on the Inter­net and began talk­ing to peo­ple around the globe I felt a need to get a bet­ter han­dle on the lan­guage. Of course once I met Holly it was all a nat­ural, and accel­er­ated, pro­gres­sion from there on out. We wrote each other page long emails. Now I had an incen­tive! But it wasn’t until my move to the US and being fully immersed in an Eng­lish speak­ing cul­ture that I really made it my own. I always loved clas­sic Eng­lish lit­er­a­ture and I was now able to read and com­pre­hend it its orig­i­nal form. More yet, being a writer and hav­ing a thor­ough grasp of Eng­lish opens many pos­si­bil­i­ties pre­vi­ously not accessible.

    The funny thing now is that even after mov­ing back to Ger­many my mind keeps pro­cess­ing every­thing in Eng­lish. I dream in Eng­lish, I think in Eng­lish and I often start con­ver­sa­tions in Eng­lish — with Ger­mans. And Ger­mans in turn often speak to me in Eng­lish now mis­tak­ing me for an Amer­i­can (and even after reveal­ing that I’m Ger­man they keep talk­ing to me in Eng­lish). Though there will always be a cer­tain veil which never fully lifts. For exam­ple, as much as I dis­like watch­ing movies dubbed in Ger­man now I some­times am sur­prised how slightly dif­fer­ent, deeper, I feel about a scene in Ger­man. It doesn’t hap­pen often but cer­tainly every now and then. I believe that unless some­one grows up truly bilin­gual there will always be, under cer­tain cir­cum­stances, a favoritism towards the pre­dom­i­nate lan­guage. Ger­man will always be my core lan­guage but it cer­tainly has now been thickly encased in Eng­lish; I very much enjoy that.

    Con­cern­ing a writer’s voice I couldn’t agree more with you as well. I would say that those who write from their heart with­out let­ting them­selves be influ­enced by the appar­ent anonymity of the web (and the con­nected entice­ment of per­sona play) will project an emo­tion­ally tan­gi­ble image of them­selves. It is that voice that draws in their audi­ence, pro­vid­ing them with a high level of trust.

    Thank you very much for this conversation!

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