Status Updates is Hard


Back in 2004, our family was much smaller (myself, Tracey, Samantha, and Bethany) and we could fit into a 2001 Ford Focus easily. On one particular trip, Tracey, Samantha and Bethany were all reading novels as I drove towards our destination, and it had been quite some time since anyone had spoken. I had Led Zeppelins Boxed Set jamming, and life was good as the family took to the open road. Suddenly, from the rear of the car, Bethany exclaimed, “I hate the tone of her voice!”

Bethany was somewhere between eight and nine at this point, so I had a number of years to accustom myself to her particular personality. (See this, and insert “butterfly” at the appropriate time.) However, it took me a moment to work through all the possible voices in the vehicle, of which there were none, to come to the conclusion that she was referring to the voice of a character in her book. Tracey beat me to the punch and began a conversation with Beth that lead down the road of self realization, to the point that Beth suddenly grasped that she controls the character’s voices in her own imagination. It was entertaining to watch the eight year old work through that; because at the beginning of the conversation Beth was adamant that the author wrote the book, and thus she (Beth) had no control. The moment she grasped the concept that the author only supplied the words, and perhaps a few pointers in the description of the context for those words, she began to consciously have fun choosing and assigning voices to her characters (read Lord of the Rings sometime and give John Wayne’s voice to Gandalf and Clint Eastwood’s to Strider!), and avoiding voices of which she might exclaim “I hate the tone of that voice!”

Many of us will affirm having stepped off the cliff in an email storm, resulting in someone getting their feelings hurt. It has been a maxim for some time now that you simply do not carry on emotionally fired communication via email; it never turns out well. It would have invariable worked out much better had a face to face conversation taken place. I was once having lunch with a good friend, and over the course of the meal, we began discussing communication over Social Networks, particularly Twitter and Facebook. I expected the course of our conversation to move along the classic discourse regarding email. To be fair, we did start out there, both affirming that there are some things (particularly those things that carry intrinsic emotional responses to) that should not be stated between individuals over this medium.

However, the conversation took a sharp introspective turn as we began discussing our own propensity to “read into” the short status updates that we see others post. I invariably tend toward believing that when you post anything that I might possibly construe as to be about me, then you have clearly posted it about me. If I can take your post and make it personal, then I do.  With a relatively modest number of Facebook Friends and Twitter Followers coming to a sum of roughly 400, I can almost guarantee that any given post that you aren’t identified in, isn’t about you. I can also safely assume, that you have more friends/followers than I do, certainly not less, and the idea that you are specifically posting an update about me is, well, somewhat ridiculous if you didn’t put my handle in the post.

It turns out that there were a handful of messages that I tweeted, and my friend wanted to know if perhaps I was taking some sort of passive aggressive stance in communicating a message his direction. To which I responded, “Well, yeah. You know how I hate being blunt and how hard I attempt to avoid open conflict!” We both laughed, and I assured him that this was not the case. Then, I asked him the same question. Because, as I have already confessed, I have a tendency to think it is all about me. Case in point, my friend and I had this conversation on a Wednesday and the following Monday he tweeted a message that I thought might be about me, and I immediately asked him if he was trying to tell me something. He wasn’t, go figure, it isn’t all about me.

However, it was ever so easy for me to come to the conclusion that is, relentlessly, about me. I take a little context (of my own choosing), I add a little tone (of my own choosing), and I associate your status update with desperate other data points that you are likely completely ignorant of, and I come to the conclusion that it is all about me. I’m confident in that conclusion, sometimes, I’m confident enough to go to war and nothing you have to say will dissuade me that my interpretation of your status update isn’t the correct one. Even when you explicitly tell me otherwise. Why? Well, for whatever reason, I’m already inclined to believe you are  <pick one or add your own >(confrontational, a bully, prideful, mean spirited, non-confrontational, sly, arrogant, etc.), so I have already assigned you a tone of voice.

Perhaps Bethany’s story can be turned toward our own enlightenment, and we can take more responsibility for what we add to the spaces between the authors words.


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  1. Dude! What’d I say?!

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