'Matter of Laugh or Death,' a humor column
By Bill Dunn
Interesting observations on this thing we call life
(appearing each week in the Republican-American newspaper, Waterbury, CT)
EMAIL HUMOR NOT FUNNY…AGAIN
OK, well that explains a lot.
A recent study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that the intended tone of an email message is perceived accurately by the recipient only 50 percent of the time.
In other words, this means that if you type something in an email that is designed to be either humorous or sarcastic or clever, half of the time the person reading the email will not get it. This might explain why most of the replies to my emails include the question, “Was that suppose to be funny?” (Many times that is the question I receive after emailing my humor column to the newspaper’s features editor—not a good sign.)
The study found that the senders of email expected their tone to be understood well over 75-percent of the time; and, although the recipients perceived the correct tone only 50-percent of the time, the recipients THOUGHT they were interpreting the tone correctly 90-percent of the time.
(No wonder interpreting something as vague as the “tone” of an email is so difficult. We can’t even interpret hard and cold numbers correctly. I bet at least half of the people who just read the previous paragraph think it said something like, “The study found that the senders of email expected their phone to be underwater well over 75-percent of the time; and, although the recipes call for scones only 50-percent of the time, the recidivists THOUGHT they were mowing the lawn correctly 90-percent of the time.”)
The study did not address the question of whether the email comments were in fact humorous or not. It just analyzed whether the recipients perceived that there had been an attempt at humor. My guess, at least based on personal experience, is that the times when an email remark is both understood as a humorous attempt—and actually funny—is no more than 5-percent.
The problem, according to the researchers who conducted the study, is that “email users feel as if they are having a conversation, but the body language, gestures and voice clues that complete a story…are missing from text sent by a computer. The person writing can hear the discussion in his head, so he has a hard time looking at the words as if he were coming at them cold.”
Well, I’ve been accused often of having voices in my head. That might explain why I laugh out loud while typing a message, but then later receive the typical reply, “Was that suppose to be funny?” Then when I reply with, “Well, when Robin Williams said it in my head it was hilarious!” the counter-reply is a terse, “Please leave me alone.”
I always interpret this as an appreciative comment that really means, “You and Robin Williams are funny guys, Bill!” Or possibly it means, “Please leave me alone.”
Practically every email note I’ve ever written (approximately 100,000 during the last 15 years) has included a little humorous comment. This is not always an easy task, for example, the time I had to inform other relatives that Uncle Morty passed away. But I’m sure they chuckled when I pointed out that since Uncle Morty would not be at the post-funeral reception, we only had to provide half the usual amount of booze.
If the recipients of my emails perceive only 50-percent of the time that I’m trying to be funny—with only 5-percent thinking it actually is funny—that’s OK. That means one out of 20 people are laughing. That may sound somewhat low, but it’s really a decent percentage. Robin Williams just told me so…in my head.
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