Shadow Stabbing

“Adjectives on the typewriter, he moves his words like a prize fight-er.”

I cannot proclaim to understand the meaning of the Cake song Shadow Stabbing but I do love that line. It seems particularly appropriate for a thought that has long percolated in my head regarding online communication, that being that context is so often lost. I have found it in contributing to this blog and in other online fora. How many times have you written an email with several points to which the response you receive only addresses one of those points. Or, if you engage in blogging or other online communication, how often do others seize on a tangential point and miss the main thrust of your discussion?

The loss of context is not only symptomatic of online communication it is a symptom of all human communication. In the online fora I’m speaking of, it is primarily text based communications where that loss of context occurs which can partially be blamed on the person that is moving those adjectives around; I grant you that. Nonetheless, I still feel that it is an issue that becomes more pronounced online, and more specifically, the use of irony. There are some people who are born with a chronic inability to recognize irony in any form and there are some people who see everything as ironic, but it seems to me that irony goes madly off in all directions when one tries to utilize it in online textual communications.

In doing a little research on this I found, perhaps, ironically that the issue of an irony punctuation point is one that has been batted around for a long time, prior to the online age and since Al Gore graced us with the inter webs¡ And again, ironically, or not, it seems there is a distinct lack of consensus on a conventional irony mark or even the need for such a thing. Two of the most commonly observed marks are: ¡ and ¿ but they are by no means the only options out there. A quick image search will reveal the universe of irony marks. I’m not even going into the territory of emoticons here. :p

This leads to, perhaps, the most ironic and thus most fitting attempt at an irony mark or the sarcmark (and I do realize that irony and sarcasm are not the same thing but they are often closely linked). This was an attempt by an enterprising pair of individuals to patent and profit by the adoption of a sarcasm mark. Firstly, a brief synopsis of the SarcMark. In short, a pair patents the mark, and tries to profit by selling the proprietary font for adaptation in software packages. Another image search will quickly reveal the scope of their ambitions. Let’s just say that the reaction to this attempt to profit from the sarcasm mark was not kind and led to the creation of the OpenSarcasm movement whose unofficial slogan:

“SarcMark: For When You’re Not Smart Enough To Express Sarcasm Online”

leads me back to my beginning point, the loss of context and the inability to recognize irony and sarcasm online. Inserting unicode text into writing to express sarcasm seems a bit much and interestingly enough your widely used word processor seems to have an inherent lack of ability to produce some of the recognized sarcasm marks. So through it all it seems that the adjectives and verbs on the typewriter need to be moved around with the dexterity of a lightweight prizefighter as opposed the lumbering directness of a heavyweight prizefighter, excepting those that float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.

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