As technology has shifted conversations online, we're developing new ways of expressing metamessages.
When people click on a new message in their email inbox, the first thing many read isn't the body of the message. It's the "to" field. When multiple recipients are listed, the receiver may be seeing an extra message, Georgetown linguistics professor Deborah Tannen explains in an article in the Atlantic adapted from her new book, "You're the Only One I Can Tell: Inside the Language of Women's Friendships."
"Everyone who receives it can see not only who else is getting the message but also what order you put the names in," she writes. According to some of the dozens of women Tannen interviewed as part of her research, they often assign meaning to where each person lands in the lineup. To be first is special. To be last? As one interviewee puts it: "'It's like they were thinking, 'Who am I forgetting?' "
Tannen describes this nuance as part of the "metamessage," or overall meaning, of the email. In spoken language, the same words can convey entirely different things depending on variables such as volume and tone. As technology has shifted more conversations online, Tannen notes, we're developing new ways of expressing our metamessages.
But we're still in the process of working out the kinks, which can lead to plenty of miscommunication. One example Tannen highlights is the use of silence - such as deliberately not responding to a text to indicate annoyance. Of course, you might also be silent because your phone battery died or you just don't have the time to deal with it right away. To avoid sending the wrong metamessage, another interviewee extols the virtues of "ghost reading," which means previewing the text without opening it. By doing so, she's not triggering the read receipt and potentially starting a countdown clock.
Another land mine: the sign-off. Tannen is a believer in "xoxo" as a comfortable middle ground between "Best" and "Love." She recognizes that it strikes some people as phony or overly cutesy, but good luck finding a suitable alternative. As she notes, "Any choice you make will send metamessages that you may not intend or suspect."(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)