Kara Ward Senior Seminar Fall 2010 Psychology, Culture, and Language within the Environment of the World

Wide Web I. Introduction

The Internet has been around since the 1960s, but it was not in common use until the 1990s, with the World Wide Web (what most people would call “the Internet”) being implemented in 1991. This new technology offers a new, interesting way for humans to interact. Through the Internet, humans have discovered a new way of developing new and maintaining old relationships. The anonymity involved with this new form of interaction has both positive and negative effects. One of the negative effects contributes to flame wars, a new form of conflict on the Internet. A positive effect is the new possibilities of identity experimentation. Finally, one very interesting outcome of widespread use of the Internet is its effects on language. In summation, the World Wide Web provides a new environment to which humans have adapted psychologically – thus enabling new Internet “cultures” and “languages” to form. II. Online Relationships

One of the most prevalent ways the Internet has affected everyday life is through social networking websites such as MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter. These social networking sites, along with other Internet media such as instant messengers and dating websites have been the basis of millions of online relationships. These relationships greatly vary in intensity. Some are as simple as two teenagers who met in a forum about a TV show they enjoy and quickly became friends. Others are as complex as two people from completely different cultures who are both

looking for love and happened to find it half way across the world. These kinds of relationships are unprecedented in human history. A few hundred years ago, one married and formed friendships with whoever lived in the same area. Arranged marriages were extremely common. Nowadays, most people (at least in American culture) gawk at the idea of an arranged marriage. Everyone is searching for their “one true love.” Many become frustrated with the poor selection in their area and turn to the Internet for help. The Internet obviously provides a much larger selection of potential partners in a romantic relationship. While one only encounters a limited number of potential partners in everyday life, there are over 20 million potential partners registered on the website eHarmony alone and millions more scattered throughout the Internet (www.eharmony.com; Melby 5). Dating websites like eHarmony provide a way for single individuals to more easily sort through the thousands of people they encounter online every day. Upon registering for eHarmony, new users must complete a lengthy questionnaire about their likes, dislikes, general personality characteristics, and what they seek in a partner. The belief of eHarmony is that a long-term relationship is easier to find if people are matched together based on the characteristics determined through their questionnaire. According to a study done in August of 2010, their belief may be correct. The study showed that approximately 4.77 percent of new marriages in the United States are between two people who met through eHarmony.com (“Study: 542 People Married Every Day in U.S., on Average, through eHarmony”). It appears that the Internet may provide an environment which helps to develop intimate relationships. A study completed in 2005 found that of couples who spent time developing their relationship through online conversations prior to meeting in person, 94 percent of those couples met up for at least a second date, with the average length of the relationships being about seven

months (“Internet Dating Much More Successful than Thought”). By talking with potential partners online prior to meeting in person, one can eliminate the hassle of bad dates with completely incompatible people. This same study also found that men were more likely to be committed to online relationships than women. Dr. Jeff Gavin, the leader of the study, suggested that this may be because of the anonymity of the Internet. Given the anonymous nature of the Internet, men are more able to express their emotions than in person, which could lead to greater commitment (“Internet Dating…”). There are negative aspects to the increase in ease of forming relationships through the Internet as well. Instances of online infidelity are becoming increasingly common. This is due, in part, to the ambiguous nature of online infidelity. In the past, infidelity was much less ambiguous – the couple involved in the affair had to meet in person to communicate and engage in acts of infidelity. As online affairs may not involve meeting in person and physically engaging in sexual activities, it is unclear where the line between not cheating and cheating lies. Despite a lack of physical contact, the partner of someone involved in an online affair still may feel just as betrayed as if there had been physical intimacy (Melby 1). If the online relationship is more emotional than physical, this may be because the relationship seems more perfect than that of the cheater and his or her partner. This image of a “perfect relationship” may have less to do with actual perfection and more to do with transference. Author Sherry Turkle has looked into conversation within online relationships in great detail. Turkle has interviewed many people involved in online relationships and found that, generally, they describe the relationships as “very intense, very powerful, and very important,” (Turkle and Salamensky 230). Interestingly, when she read the online conversations between the two partners, she noticed that they lack much substance. She attributes this phenomenon to

transference. This essentially means that the participants in the online relationship project meaning into their less-than-meaningful conversations (230). Apparently, many online relationships in which the partners do not meet in person are made more substantial through the fantasies of the individuals in the relationship. According to Melby, seven factors which contribute to online cheating have been identified (4). The first is anonymity. While anonymous, cheaters feel less responsible for their actions and are simultaneously able to act like a superior version of themselves. The second is accessibility. Computers and other ways of communicating with strangers are everywhere. In addition, there are millions of people on the Internet to connect with. The third factor is affordability. As one already pays for Internet services for everyday non-cheating uses, Internet infidelity does not cost much money. The fourth is approximation. Conversation on instant messaging services closely imitates offline communication. The fifth factor is acceptability. Communicating online and through text messages is increasingly becoming normal within our society. Thirty years ago communicating through typed messages would have been ludicrous as hardly anyone communicated in that way, but today it is completely normal. The sixth factor is the previously mentioned ambiguity. The seventh and final factor is accommodation. This is simply the differences between how one is in reality and how one projects oneself on the Internet (Melby 4). Anonymity is a very intriguing aspect of the Internet. It can have both positive and negative effects. Positive effects include (but are not limited to) increased opportunities for those who are physically different and may be judged because of their differences, an increased ease with self-disclosure, and the ability to explore oneself without consequence. Negative effects include (but, once again, are not limited to) increased propensity to lash out at others, excessive

sexual exploration which may lead to interest in violent pornography, and a lack of feeling responsible for one‟s words or actions on the Internet. In regards to the development of relationships online, one positive effect of anonymity is the opportunity it provides for people who could be considered physically unattractive. Unfortunately, attractive people are generally perceived as happier, friendlier, nicer, and more intelligent than their unattractive counterparts (Wallace 137). Because of this, offline perceptions of unattractive people may be skewed in a more negative manner. On the Internet, however, one is able to interact without knowing what others look like. According to Wallace, this provides an opportunity for physically unattractive people not seen before in history (138). Without knowledge of what the person one is chatting with on the Internet looks like, one has no preconceived notions about that person. Wallace provides an example of a student who considers himself unattractive and had great difficulties contributing to discussion in class offline. He enrolled in a course with an online discussion forum and found that the ease with which he was able to contribute greatly increased. In person he felt as though his comments went unacknowledged, but online his classmates readily responded to him (Wallace 138). Classes with online discussions are becoming increasingly common. Hopefully this will help people such as this young man who have trouble contributing to discussion in person. This idea can also be easily applied to the development of online friendships. A person who may or may not be physically unattractive may be extremely shy offline but is able to easily come out of their shell online. This person could have a much easier time making and maintaining relationships on the Internet.

More often than not, people do not go on the Internet with the intention of making a new friend or meeting a future partner. Many friendships (which may or may not evolve into romantic relationships) begin in chat rooms, forums, online games such as World of Warcraft, and social networking sites like MySpace. The primary function of these media is to entertain the user rather than help him or her form relationships like dating websites. Nevertheless, friendships and romantic relationships form through these media quite often. An increasing number of marriages are being reported by people who met in the virtual worlds of games like World of Warcraft. This may be because of the amount of time players dedicate to these kinds of games. In a 2007 study, players said they played an average of 23 hours every week (Nauert). If players join a certain guild (a group of players who work together and help each other out within the game) they are likely to meet up with the members of their guild very often. Because members of a guild in World of Warcraft would spend many hours a week “together” in their online world, they could be considered to have a high proximity to each other. Proximity is a huge component in the formation and maintenance of relationships. Clearly, “proximity” between Internet friends is not necessarily a geographical term. Rather, proximity on the Internet would be participation in the same forums, games, guilds, chat rooms, and so forth. In offline life, one is more likely to form relationships with those one sees most often. The same is true on the Internet. According to Wallace, in regards to relationships formed through interaction on forums, those who post more messages are more likely to develop relationships with others participating in the online conversation (140). People who simply read what others write and rarely contribute to the discussion are much less likely to form strong relationships with their online acquaintances (140). The same is true in offline life – one does not consider another a friend unless they interact with some regularity.

Humor is another critical component of attraction and relationships, especially on the Internet. According to Wallace, self-directed humor is a more effective form of humor on the Internet than humor directed at others (148). On the Internet, humor directed at others can be misconstrued very easily. A comment that, in normal conversation, would be loaded with sarcasm and therefore would not be interpreted as malicious could easily be interpreted in a negative manner on the Internet. Say, for example, two friends are having a conversation about one of the friend‟s new boyfriend on an instant messaging system. The friend with the new boyfriend (Sara) asks what her friend (Joanne) thinks of her new boyfriend. Not thinking, Joanne jokingly says, “I don‟t know, he seems like he might be a bit of a jerk.” She means for this phrase to be very sarcastic, but Sara misinterprets the comment as malicious and in turn gets very angry at Joanne. In an offline conversation, Joanne would have had a sarcastic intonation in her voice which would have made the joke obvious to Sara. Quite often situations such as this escalate into huge online fights in which neither participant is really sure why the fight started to begin with. Believe it or not, computer-mediated communication has been around since the 1970s. In the early days, a serious problem with computer-mediated communication was a lack of emotion. In the early 1990s, when everyday people were beginning to regularly use the Internet, conversations on forums seemed very cold and emotionless. Something was missing from Internet conversation that was present in conversation on the phone and in person. That something was a complete lack of vocal intonation and nonverbal cues. In a face-to-face or telephone conversation, whoever is listening adds in assuring gestures to help the speaker feel assured in their speech. These gestures may include saying small phrases like “uh-huh,” nodding,

smiling, and looking the speaker in the eyes (Wallace 16). Without these little assurances, conversations on the Internet may seem somewhat harsh to a new Internet user. In response to this, explains Wallace, a “socioemotional thaw” occurred within Internet conversations (18). One aspect of this thaw was the introduction of avatars in games, but the main aspect of this thaw was the advent of emoticons. These began simply enough, with :) being a smile and :( being a frown. As Internet users latched onto these concrete emotional displays, more and more emoticons were created and they became more aesthetically pleasing. Most instant chat programs now have a set of emoticon faces which appear when the proper punctuation marks are put together (i.e. :) automatically turns into a face like this ). The number of emotions displayed by these faces has increased drastically as well. What began with a simple happy face has now evolved to include faces which indicate horror (D:), sticking one‟s tongue out (:P), and even rolling one‟s eyes (C.C). Unfortunately, these faces can prove somewhat alienating and confusing to users who have never seen them before. These emoticons also have potential for cross-cultural misinterpretation. Even within American culture sticking one‟s tongue out has a multitude of implications. The basic biological meaning of sticking one‟s tongue out is a reaction to a disgusting flavor. Typically, within online conversation the :P emoticon is meant to convey silliness or a joking attitude. Offline, sticking one‟s tongue out can be an aggressive act, especially in children. Within the context of other cultures, sticking one‟s tongue out can mean something entirely different. In Tibetan culture, for example, sticking one‟s tongue out upon greeting someone is a sign of respect (“Bön”). Despite widespread use of emoticons, there are still very few ways to detect emotion in conversation on the Internet. According to Vance, misinterpretation problems occur when

Internet users lack the skills necessary to write and decode messages without the nonverbal cues the Internet leaves behind (154). Because of this, problems such as that of Sara and Joanne arise with some frequency. Usually these misinterpretations are between two friends and they work it out rather quickly. Sometimes, however, the misinterpretation may be between two coworkers, someone and their boss, or a student and their teacher. These misinterpretations can be much more hazardous to the two (or more) participants‟ lives, both socially and professionally. For example, if someone sends an email to his or her boss in which they say “All the work I have had to do recently is killing me! I think I might quit!” as a joke, his or her boss could misinterpret it as sincere. This could result in either the boss thinking poorly of the writer or assuming that the writer is actually intending to quit. Obviously, this would be a very negative consequence for what the writer meant as a simple joke. III. Internet Flame Wars

Sometimes misinterpretations lead to huge, public Internet battles which have come to be known as flame wars. Flame wars often arise on forums and social networking websites like Facebook and MySpace, but also occur within the “comments” section of many websites, especially those discussing heated issues such as politics as well as within online games like World of Warcraft or games on Playstation Network or Xbox Live. Flame wars tend to start in one of two ways: either through some sort of misinterpretation or through the interventions of a flamer – someone who tries to start flame wars for their own entertainment (“Flamer”). Frequently, flame wars start because of some sort of misinterpretation. According to Wallace, if one is frustrated while conversing on the Internet, one is quick to hair-trigger reactions (116). These reactions happen when one puts typed dialogue into a different context

because one is already angry or frustrated. Thus, a harmless comment can be misconstrued as a malicious comment by one‟s state of mind. One then lashes out against the perceived malicious comment and feels completely justified in the angry response (Wallace 117). After this response, the person on the other side of the fight feels attacked for no reason. He or she then retaliates in the classic “eye for an eye” manner. Wallace states that often flame responses become worse and worse – instead of “eye for an eye” the fights become more like “eye for a leg” (118). With this mentality, it is obvious how flame wars can quickly evolve into vicious fights. Sometimes, the misinterpretation may be an error on the part of the original poster. Perhaps, for example, the poster is new to a forum and has not yet learned the guidelines to posting on the forum. A simple error such as this can often result in a reproach. Reproaches could say something as simple as “Please read the rules of this forum before posting,” but often they are much harsher. Wallace provides an excellent example of an overzealous reproach. The error occurred when a new poster said the following: “Hi, I‟m a 23 year old graduate student and would like to communicate with any females on this news net,” (122). The overzealous reproach began with: “Well, Howdy! Finally a request for a female that doesn‟t specify species – you wouldn‟t believe how many people on this net want a woman, which of course means a person. *giggle* My name is Susa, and I‟m a five-year-old Lemur in the Philly Zoo…” (122). The responder then continues on with their very long, sarcastic, cruel reproach. She ends with calling the original poster “really_dumb for a human” (122). Clearly this response is much harsher than necessary and therefore could start a vicious flame war. Flame wars can erupt from a seemingly civil and everyday conversation quite suddenly or they can be provoked by people known as flamers. Flamers are people who purposely start flame wars by provoking other users with insidious comments for their own entertainment

(“Flaming”). Websites which cater to one side of a heated political topic, such as gay marriage, are frequently targets for flamers. In order to start a war, a flamer could post something as simple as “Anyone who is pro-gay marriage is against God and all things moral,” on a pro-gay marriage website. Oftentimes, a lure as obvious as this will be recognized as an attempt to start a flame war. When this happens, most contributors to the discussion will ignore the bait. A wellpracticed flamer may post something which is less obviously attempting to elicit a response. With more subtlety, a flamer can easily start a full-out flame war (“Flaming”). Once someone responds to the flamer‟s initial comment, the flamer can then attack what the responder has said. The flamer will often attack with flawed logic that the responder (or others who come to the responder‟s defense) can easily refute. Much to the responder‟s dismay, the flamer may then continue with their responses and add new comments as well. These new comments may be attacks directly against the responder. Eventually, the flame war may evolve into straight ad hominem attacks which have absolutely nothing to do with the original discussion. When flame wars get completely out of hand, the regular posters to a website or forum may begin to completely ignore the thread that contains the flame war. In this instance, the flame war has resulted in the death of the thread (“Flaming”). Once started, flame wars can be very difficult to end. Much of the difficulty is due to over-retaliation – the “eye for a leg” phenomenon previously mentioned. Often, several of those involved in the fight will try to end the fight with their “last” comment. The “last” comment will usually contain one final bash against the opposing team. These final bashes are sometimes worded as follows: “You can continue with your stupid and childish flame war, but I‟m done with it.” The comment is worded in this manner in hopes that the opposing team will not respond and the commenter will have “won” the flame war. This desired result is rarely attained,

however, as the opposing team usually will try to repeat with another bashing comment. The first team will then likely respond again, and the flame war continues. If started by a flamer, the war may continue until the flamer gets bored and leaves. If started by a misinterpretation, the war may continue until the opposing sides explain the initial misinterpretation. If neither of these events occurs, the flame war will eventually die out as people become disinterested and leave. There are several factors which contribute to the large amounts of intense public fighting on the Internet. A slow or faulty connection to the Internet often heightens levels of frustration. A poor Internet connection would be particularly frustrating in the instance of a flame war on a forum. While attacking each other, the two or more people involved in the war would have to constantly refresh the webpage in order to see what others have written. If their Internet connection is faulty or slow, they would have difficulty keeping up with each other. This would ultimately heighten frustration levels. The inconsistent speed of responses in forums also contributes to higher levels of frustration. Some forum have very quick response times – someone may respond to a post within a few minutes – while others have much slower response times – it may take a week or longer for a response. If one participates in many forums, one may expect similar response times, but this is not very common. The high levels of anonymity, low levels of physical presence, and the generally impersonal atmosphere of some Internet conversations can also contribute to flame wars (Wallace 115). High levels of anonymity and low levels of physical presence go hand-in-hand within the context of the Internet. When one logs on to a forum, instant messenger, e-mail provider, or video game, one logs in under a username. Other users (who are not close friends) address each other with usernames rather than birth names. The use of usernames greatly increases the sense of anonymity on the Internet. One can create usernames which have absolutely no defining

characteristics as to leave oneself completely anonymous – as in the username “blackbox445.” This username provides no information as to the gender, age, sexual orientation, race, or location of the user, leaving the user completely anonymous. In 1983, Kiesler, Siegel, and McGuire executed a study regarding the correlation of user anonymity and aggressive comments towards members in a group. Two groups were used in the study: one control group, which communicated through computers with their names attached to their messages, and one group who communicated anonymously through computers. The members of each group had to work together to come to a decision. Within the second group, every comment was completely anonymous – group members could not even tell which messages were written by the same person. The researchers found that the anonymous group members wrote significantly more aggressive comments to each other than their counterparts (more than six times as many comments!) (Kiesler, Siegel, and McGuire; Wallace 125). This study clearly shows the impact that the anonymous nature of the Internet can have on the development of aggression and ultimately flame wars on the Internet. As the location of many users remains unknown, the perceived levels of physical presence are very low. That is, while conversing with another user, one has no idea where that user lives. The user may be as far away as the other side of the world, or as close as a few houses down the street. Either way, one cannot see the other user and vice versa. This often leads to harsher reactions as one cannot see the reactions of the other user as he or she reads what has been written to him or her. Reactions via the Internet are far less personal than facial expressions. Because of this, users are able to disconnect themselves from the guilt they would feel if they acted the same way in a face-to-face conversation. Users are also able to feel out of harm‟s way – as if they are protected against retaliation (Wallace 126).

IV.

Online Identity Experimentation

Anonymity and a lack of physical presence allow Internet users to engage in identity experimentation. According to Turkle and Salamensky, the Internet offers a new form of psychosocial moratorium (226). Erik Erickson first developed the idea of a psychosocial moratorium. He defined it as a place or time in life in which one can experiment with one‟s identity without consequence in order to determine one‟s true identity. When Erickson originally developed this concept, he applied it mainly to adolescents, who are constantly experimenting with new identities to figure out which works best (Fraser-Thill). Because of the Internet, people of all ages are able to experiment with their established identities. Anonymity and a lack of physical presence play into this in that both aspects allow the user to easily lie about themselves in order to experiment. Many people who choose to use the Internet as a psychosocial moratorium only change small aspects about themselves. One can experiment with being more extraverted, optimistic, affectionate, and many other characteristics with ease. Experimenting with one‟s identifying characteristics on the Internet is much easier than offline partly because others cannot see body movements which would give away one‟s lies. Interestingly, according to Wallace there is anecdotal evidence showing that experimenting with small bits of one‟s personality on the Internet may evoke a change in offline situations as well (54). If a woman has trouble being affectionate with her husband, she could attempt to incorporate affection into her personality on the Internet – it may pay off and help her become more affectionate offline as well. Sometimes people use the Internet as a more extreme moratorium. Consider, for example, a man who has long questioned his sexuality but, due to societal constraints, fears outing himself

without some form of experimentation and help. Thanks to the World Wide Web, there is an easy way for him to get help and experiment with his sexuality. Support groups are abundant on the Internet. This man could easily find a support group for people questioning their sexuality, read stories from other questioning individuals, tell his own story, and get advice. Because he has the option of remaining totally anonymous if he chooses, it is much easier for him to join an online group than to join a support group which meets in person or for him to work up the nerve to go to a gay bar to experiment (Wallace 48). Another way Internet users can experiment with their identity is through avatars on online video games. Essentially an avatar is the way players within a game (or on a forum which contains picture avatars which accompany each post) see each other. Each user gets to choose how their avatar looks. On very intricate online games, like the Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) World of Warcraft, avatars are extremely customizable. Many people spend hours customizing and buying new outfits for their World of Warcraft (WoW) avatars. The interesting aspect of avatars, in regards to identity experimentation, is that they do not actually have to look at all like the actual players. A man who is over six feet tall could play a female dwarf in WoW. Despite the fact that avatars do not necessarily resemble their players, players tend to treat each other as if they were very similar to their avatar. This means that, if a female chooses to play a male avatar, her online friends will tend to believe she is a male despite what she types to them because her avatar is male (Wallace 24). MMORPGs like World of Warcraft provide a fun environment in which players can roleplay and interact with other players whenever they want. For many people, the game is so enticing they play for hours every day. Brignall immersed himself in the game in order to fully understand the lives and motivations of hard-core players. He also regularly spoke with these

players in order to get more insight into their lives. These hard-core players typically play for five to six hours every weekday and ten hours each day of the weekend. The focus of Brignall‟s study was on the social aspects of the game and the implications of excessive game-play in offline life. In talking to hard-core players on WoW, Brignall found that many felt that socialization was much easier within the game than offline (114). In fact, Brignall himself made many friends within the game. He typically played with a group of three other players. He admits that they soon began to feel like the closest friends he had – online and off (117). Generally, Brignall found a good deal of camaraderie and altruism within WoW. Of course, there was also a good deal of prejudice within the game as well. Many conversations were very racist and sexist. Brignall also witnessed several players simulating intercourse with the corpses of female avatars (118). While many hard-core players Brignall encountered held positive feelings for World of Warcraft, some were beginning to notice the strain it put on their offline lives and relationships. Brignall found that several of the players had already begun to lose track of their offline friends (he studied the game within the first few months of its release). He also had three WoW friends report their spouses becoming angry and frustrated with the excessive amount of WoW they played and three more who had to quit playing the game because they had played so much they had started to fail their high school classes (Brignall 117). Considering he only studied 34 players, a large portion of them were having their lives negatively affected by their game-play. According to Wallace, when the World Wide Web was still in its earliest years (before the book‟s publication date in 1999) people who were more likely to be deemed “dependent” on

the Internet used chat rooms and MUDs, which were basically early forms of games like World of Warcraft (181). A quote from a hard-core MUD player describes how the player views himself and the other MUD players – as “gods” and highly intelligent, respecting people (182). Whether this is true or not, numerous players hold this same belief. This sort of idealized world can be extremely intoxicating to many, leading to what some describe as an addiction to games like WoW. Another contributing factor to addiction to games like WoW is the need to rise in social standing and then maintain that high standing. Basically, once one begins to develop a character, meet new people, and make friends within the game, one feels the need to maintain those friendships and foster new ones. One must continue to play daily or one “will be forgotten,” (qtd. in Wallace 186). V. Internet Languages

As a newcomer to games like World of Warcraft or, indeed, the Internet in general, one may be quite confused by some of the words and acronyms in common use. Online games have developed so many new words that are constantly used in-game that many websites have sprung up with keys as to what each word means. Some words, such as boomstick (which means shotgun), mostly make sense. Other words, such as n00b (which essentially means someone similar to a flamer but within a game), do not seem to make very much sense. Nevertheless, new words are constantly developing within gaming communities. An interesting offshoot of gamer language is known as “1337” (pronounced, and sometimes spelled, “leet”). According to the website NetLingo.com, leet was originally used by computer hackers and hard-core gamers. Leetspeak is commonly used within the context of a joke between hackers and/or hard-core gamers. The language involves using computer symbols,

including numbers, letters, and punctuation marks, to spell out words phonetically. The language also often combines non-alphanumeric symbols to create letters (Netlingo.com). People who enjoy experimenting with leet have invented multiple ways of writing each letter of the alphabet. For example, the letter “A” can be spelled the following ways in leet: 4 @ /-\ /\ ^ aye ∂ ci λ (“Leet”). Upon close examination, all of these possibilities resemble the letter “A,” in either lowercase or uppercase. Acronyms run rampant in conversations in instant messaging programs and in forums. Like the more confusing gaming words, forum acronyms can be extremely alienating for newcomers. The website NetLingo.com is an online dictionary which has a page dedicated solely to acronyms which are used in online conversations. The page contains hundreds of examples of seemingly incomprehensible acronyms. One such example is @TEOTD, which means “at the end of the day.” If one has never encountered this acronym before, one might think that the writer had some sort of spasmodic episode while typing and did not realize it, but in reality this is not the case. Many studies of computer-mediated communication have revealed that the language used is a new form of language – somewhere between written and oral language (Aris). In his study, Aris found that Internet users tend to speak/write (on the Internet) similarly to how they speak and write offline, but with many abbreviations and grammatical/spelling errors. Many users will spell words phonetically and use shorthand abbreviations of words to speed their response time. For example, one user in his study asked a friend “what r u doing,” which, obviously, translates to “What are you doing?” Another user was quoted as saying “omg,” which is an abbreviation for “Oh, my God,” (Aris). The study also showed that users often type in all uppercase to simulate shouting or to put an emphasis on their point. Interestingly, Aris also found that users

will include small phrases during synchronous chat to indicate that they are listening. Several users indicated they were laughing after another user said something by typing “lol” (laughing out loud) or “haha,” (Aris). These simple phrases help to combat the missing nonverbal cues that Wallace described (nodding, saying “uh huh,” etc.). Major contributors to the evolution of language via the Internet in the past 10 to 15 years have been adolescents – particularly teenage girls. For whatever reason, it appears that teenagers are particularly apt at learning to use developing technology. Teenage girls discovered instant messaging programs like AOL Instant Messenger and have flocked to the programs ever since. Guy Merchant studied how teenage girls talk with other people in chats. He conducted interviews with six girls between the ages of 14 and 16 and then observed each talk on an instant messenger for about 10 minutes. Through his research, he made many discoveries about the new linguistic style of Internet chat. Merchant found that these girls wrote in ways which made the dialogue seem more informal and readable as “speech,” (301). The exclusive use of lowercase letters and the usual exclusion of punctuation help to make the conversations seem more informal. Often, the conversations involved abbreviations such as “u,” “wot,” and “woz” (for “you,” “what,” and “was,” respectively [the research was done with girls from England, thus explaining the different spelling of “wot” from what American teenagers spell “wut”]). These abbreviations help the words seem more like speech (301). Merchant describes four kinds of abbreviations which he encountered in his research. The first is the use of emoticons. The second is the simple abbreviations with the first letters of each word, like “brb,” “IMHO,” and “jk” (“be right back,” “in my humble opinion,” and “just kidding,” respectively). The third involves combining letters and numbers to spell words such as before (b4), anyone (ne1), and forever (4ever). The fourth

and final type of abbreviation outlined by Merchant is phonetic spelling, such as “u,” “r,” and “wot” (“you,” “are,” and “what,” respectively) (302). VI. Conclusion

As the World Wide Web is still a relatively new medium, the full psychological, cultural, and linguistic effects of its use have yet to be seen. Nevertheless, research thus far provides some very fascinating insights into human nature. Extremely aggressive flame wars show that human nature can sometimes be quite negative. With the increased anonymity of the Internet, people very easily act quite aggressively towards other people. This increased anonymity also provides an opportunity to experiment with one‟s identity – an opportunity that many have taken advantage of. The success of dating websites shows that humans naturally seek intense relationships and will utilize any tools they can in order to find an intimate relationship. Finally, the use of language on the Internet shows that, no matter what medium humans are interacting through, linguistic norms, such as abbreviations and phonetic spelling, develop and evolve.

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