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The Gillette Singularity
Think that email you’re sending off to your coworker is pretty funny? According to a recent study (PDF link), the odds are that she’ll find only half as funny as you do.
A trio of business scholars ran an interesting experiment: They took a bunch of people and had them write emails in various tones of voice, including “sarcastic” and “funny”. Then they sent them to a handful of recipients. It turns out that the recipients were frequently unable to correctly read the tone that the writer intended: Only 56% were able to accurately figure out that an email was sarcastically phrased.
Things fared even worse with humor. The email writers were asked to compose a funny email, and to rate it on an ascending scale of 1 to 10 — both in terms of how funny they thought it was, and how funny they predicted their readers would find it. On average, the writers rated their own hilarity level at 8.16, and predicted that readers would find them a laff-a-rific 7.27. In reality, the stone-faced recipients thought the emails were only 3.55 funny.
Obviously, there are a couple of conclusions here. Either a) people are crappy writers; b) people are crappy readers; or c) a subtle mixture of the two governs all online communiations, ensuring that we have no clue what the hell anyone else is trying to say. Nor is this problem solely limited to email; as the authors note:
Although our focus here has been on e-mail miscalibrations, we believe that the overconfidence we have documented here likely characterizes a wide range of rapidly emerging media types. Chat room, instant messaging, text-based gaming environments — all have been touted for their superiority to asynchronous text media such as e-mail because of the dynamic nature of the discourse and ability to provide rapid feedback … In fact, we suspect the synchronous and rapid nature of these mediums may actually increase the rift between senders and receivers. [italics in original]
Heh. World of Warcraft chat-channel trash-talk — now there’s a medium of rigorously crafted prose.
I'm Clive Thompson, a writer on science, technology, and culture. This blog collects bits of offbeat research I'm running into, and musings thereon.
Currently, I'm a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. I also write for Fast Company and Wired magazine's web site, among other places. Email or AOL IM me (pomeranian99) to say hi or send in something strange!
May 20, 2011 » 02:28 PM
From Christopher Kennedy’s very droll book “Neitzsche’s Horse”.
July 28, 2010 » 07:35 AM
“Wr” - S
July 06, 2010 » 10:05 AM
My Xbox broke, and I was trying to Google some possible technical solutions, when I noticed that Google appears to be encouraging me to make a typo. I suppose it’s possible that Google’s algorithms know that typing “wont” instead of “won’t” would produce better results.
June 29, 2010 » 05:00 PM
On the other hand, when I tried the test for multitasking, I was pretty abysmal. I performed worse than people who identify themselves as heavy multitaskers, and those who identify as low multitaskers.
June 29, 2010 » 04:58 PM
I finally got around to trying out the interactive “test your distractability and multitasking” page at the New York Times, which they put up alongside their story earlier this month about how computer distractions are eroding our lives.
According to the test, I guess I have good focus — I’m not very distractable!
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