A blog about Cyberculture and ICTs.

The little things give you away

Posted by candacewhitehead on August 18, 2008

In Real Life (IRL) you are able to create a first impression in a number of ways. You market yourself in whichever way you choose to, with an almost unlimited range of options.

Your Gucci handbag and snappy, bad-tempered little dog screams “poppie” – plastic, Barbie-doll. Rocking up on your first day of work at a law firm wearing flip-flops and smelling like rum might see you out on the kerb. Everything from the scent that you wear to the timbre of your voice helps to create an overall impression which can win you a date or lose you a job.

Online, the ways in which you can create a first impression are severely limited. For the majority of chat sites, forums, and Instant Messengers you are limited to a nickname, a limited “About Me” section and an avatar. And in a world where first impressions are everything, these are all you have to go on.

Logging on to an online chat room aimed at “free-minded individuals” contained a character called “Horny_male_69”. Classy. I picture some sleazy, creepy guy hanging at his computer waiting for the most desperate female in the room to latch on to him, and logged off. The next chat room contained someone called “nuttygirl”, another person called “jacobzuma” (I hope our ANC president isn’t trying to pick up chicks online on while his corruption trial looms over his head) and yet another person called “angeljelly”. (Seriously, “angeljelly?”).

Each of these nicknames conjure up a particular image in our minds – and accompanied with this comes the all-important avatar.

And then there is the all important “About Me” section. It’s on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, on the majority of Forums I’ve visited, on dating sites and some chat rooms. I’ve taken profiles from an online dating site, and will examine them, for interest’s sake.

wotsup my name’s nic and i love supermoto.i love going 4 jol wid da boys and jus having an awsum time all the time.yeah,i live in south africa and no we dont go 2 school on a frigging elephant u dumbass.

Wotsup? Wid? What is that? Awsum? Oooh he’s a South African, that’s nice. “And no we don’t go 2 school on a frigging elephant u dumbass”?! Way to make a “frigging” impression, mate. Call me stupid, cause that makes me feel sexy. Gar. Learn some spelling and grammar, moron.

I’m a combat veteran in the U.S. Army. Soon to be a civilian again. I enjoy reading and writing poetry. I’m an amateur magician and will be going pro once i’m out of the army. I’m from Oklahoma but will be moving to Paris, France in about 5 months.

Reading between the lines here (and read it as a woman): combat veteran – possibly slightly broken, will need fixing. We love fixing things. Enjoy reading and writing poetry – wow, sensitive. Amateur magician? He loves children! And Paris? I’m sold. Will you marry me?

Which one would you most likely send a message to? (And ignore my biased little assessments of each) My point is that online, bad grammar and bad spelling can be as much of a deterrent as body odour or bad teeth. Language is one of the prime methods through which we can identify ourselves, but it’s one thing to say something stupid, and quite another to have it recorded for leagues of mean bloggers to criticise.

I mentioned one’s avatar as being one of the most important means of identifying one’s self, and ultimately a logo to your personal brand, but I think I shall leave that discussion to my next post.

And in the meantime, I think I’m going to change my forum nickname. I think I’ve grown out of mine.


4 Responses to “The little things give you away”

  1. Black Sun Cosmonaut said

    For my own reasons I personally loathe reading anything written in the style of your first example, when I receive emails that are filled with this textual equivalent of a Jackson Pollack painting I tend to ignore the sender for a few days until I feel like deciphering it.. and even then it is a struggle.

    Perhaps I’m just getting on in years and not up with all this ‘lol internets’ speak but as you say in a text based medium language is going to be used as our primary impression of someone and first impressions count. A post or IM filled with this tripe generally makes me think that I am dealing with someone under the age of 15 or someone who was absent for the majority of their English classes. I could be totally wrong of course but if someone doesn’t take the time to clearly write what they have to say – why should I spend the time to figure out their meaning?

    As for your second example and despite my own views on ‘combat veterans’ would you say that it is an indication of the world we live in today that your first thoughts of a combat veteran runs to being ‘broken’ than them being something else. Though what you say about the rest of his profile does come across as more than a little creepy when you have added your commentary to it!

    Mind you I say all of this and notice that your own about page is still at the default.. but you are welcome to pull my own to pieces if you would like 🙂 <– A smiley face just to clarify my own poor attempt at humour!

  2. candacewhitehead said

    Oh the irony. I feel I’m terrible at writing those “About Me” things – I find it incredibly difficult to condense who I am into one of those little text boxes. And I also don’t want to ramble on for pages as to why I’m so great and what you need to know about me. But I shall learn, I hope.

    With regards to the war vetaran comment – if you think about the majority of the media representations of soldiers (I give classic examples such as “Saving Private Ryan”, “Flags of our Fathers”, “An Unpopular War” (a South African collection of stories of vetarans from the Border War), and lest we forget “Apocolypse Now”), most of them portray the stereotype of the broken soldier. I guess I was working of that, most of all.

    My father was a vetaran of the Border War, and while he wasn’t “broken” in the sense of being shell-shocked or suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome, his experience altered his personality drastically. He spent 13 years (largely against his will – South African men in the 1970s were conscripted) in the South African Army, and he missed out on the first few years of my childhood, and almost destroyed his marriage as a result of forced service.

    My point is, I don’t think you can be unaffected by experiences such as that – and I don’t think there are very many people who have leave the military with very positive experiences(and here I mean people who have seen real conflict). But that’s just me.

  3. Black Sun Cosmonaut said

    I have the same trouble with writing about myself and my own page (which I checked for errors after I commented here!) is filled with a lot of useless waffle. I think in the end it doesn’t really matter what you write if people want to get to know they’ll do so through what you write on your blog – not what you’ve thrown together on an about page. As I said a poor attempt at humour on my own behalf.

    As for the combat veteran statement, I do apologise if I came across a little prickly about it, it was more a commentary on my own experiences with people’s reactions towards those who’ve served overseas (or within their own country) and it seems to be people’s default reaction these days which I myself find more than a little sad.

    Thought I best clear that up, I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read here so will return and thought best not to annoy you from the get go!

  4. candacewhitehead said

    Fantastic – and it’s no annoyance! We’re all entitled to our own opinions. I think I’ve gone back to my “About” page about fifty times now. I’m pedantic like that.

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