Internet Ettiquette Question
July 19, 2012 5:39 AM   Subscribe

How do I react if I committed an internet faux pas, and how can I tell if I even did it in the first place?

So I recently made a new acquaintance online. We're both interested in a very specific story, of which, there is little actual fandom. Our first few notes were great, we were both prompt with one another and seemed to be hitting it off really well.

This is where I think I may have made a snafu. See, as I've been making an acquaintance with this person, I've also been oversea's trying to study in a place where I plain out can't speak or understand the language. The people I've met here are lovely, but the language barrier has done a lot to make me feel isolated, alienated and vulnerable. Generally, I can deal with that, and I've gotten a heck of a lot better with it over the past few weeks, but if something like really bad weather, or a bad interraction with one of the few English-fluent people I know occurs, it can really set me into an anxious mood.

Anyway, the last time I corresponded with this person, I had been having an especially rough run of things. I was feeling isolated, and couldn't leave my rather small apartment because of really bad weather. Just out of being so anxious, I ended up writing a really, really long response to them. I don't feel as though I was negative or terribly off topic, and the problem was further exacerbated by the fact that the keyboard for my ipad sometimes confuses the return and enter button, so I inadvertently sent this person several responses instead of one because I didn't realize I was hitting the wrong button.

All of this persons previous responses came within the span of 2 or 3 days, but it's been 11 now and I haven't heard anything. Should I send a message checking to see if they received my reply? Should I apologize for sending such a long response? I'm already a little bit socially akward in real life (I can't always pick up on cues), and the internet can just make things even more nebulous. Is there an ettiquette to this that I'm not aware of? I'm a bit afraid I offended this other person by being long winded.
posted by Rosengeist to Society & Culture (9 answers total)
It can be much harder to respond to really, really long emails than to shorter ones.

Personally, I almost always respond to shorter correspondence quickly, but when someone sends me a long treatise, I end up waiting until I have enough time to really digest it and respond at length. This can take weeks, unless the subject matter seems urgent. (And on rare occasion means forgetting about it in the meantime and never responding, which I feel terrible about!)

If you want to continue the conversation, you could perhaps send a short follow-up with a cheerful: "Man, you got my late-night ramblings the other night! Sorry about that. Here's the tl;dr version:"

And if they don't reply to that, just back off. Some people just don't stick with extended correspondence for people they're not flirting with or dating, is all.
posted by 168 at 5:58 AM on July 19, 2012 [9 favorites]

You know what? You made a snafu. It happens. Perhaps in a few weeks send a few short lines, checking up on the person, asking a question of him/her and seeming interested in keeping the conversation going.

If they don't respond, their loss. People make mistakes, especially when under stress. If he/she can't accept that you needed to vent/talk to someone, well then, oh well.

I wish you all the very best - don't let it get to you too much.
posted by Falwless at 5:59 AM on July 19, 2012

I'm sorry you're having a tough time.

Don't worry too much about the message. You are a casual acquaintance with someone; you don't know if they are on vacation, or working overtime at work, or have something else going on. You have nothing to apologize for - and apologizing might actually make it seem awkward rather than clear things up.

Give it another week and then write a friendly message of ordinary length that doesn't allude to your previous email (except in reference to the specific story you're interested in in fandom).
posted by arnicae at 5:59 AM on July 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

On what basis do you think you've offended your remote interlocutor? It sounds like your fear of having committed a social faux pas may be another symptom of the very same anxiety that caused you to write the long response.

If this were a face-to-face conversation, you would know, but if it's happening via email any number of things could cause a delay in response. Maybe their power was out. Maybe they got busy, or went out of town. Maybe they plain forgot to respond. Maybe none of these things is true. My point is, you don't know. The basis for your anxiety about the situation is your own projected feelings about your last email.

It seems to me like the best approach would then be to address the anxiety at the source. Try to be patient. Get out of your head. Wait a week or two. If you don't hear back, maybe send a nice "hey, how are you doing?" type email.
posted by deathpanels at 6:16 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

This varies really widely between people. Some thrive on long letters, some don't know what to do with them, some are totally turned off. But considering that the two of you have based your friendship around a strong interest in what I am assuming is a narrative work, I bet this person isn't ignoring you because you suddenly got wordy.

No matter how much you may think you know about this person's day to day life, you probably don't know everything, and there could be a billion and one reasons why they haven't gotten back to you in a week and a half, most of which have nothing to do with you doing the wrong thing. You have a couple choices:

A) chalk it up as a bad go, do nothing and wait for them to respond to you maybe?
B) send them a short email back on-topic and don't say a word about your long email at all
C) send them a medium email that isn't on-topic, that expresses your concern and your hope that the two of you can talk about personal stuff too because you like and respect their opinion and hope they're doing well, but if they want to keep it totally on that story then you're happy to oblige
D) a combination of B & C.

Personally I'd go with D. That way the recipient can choose which part to spend the most time replying to - but since there will be story-talk as well as personal-talk, they'll have something to reply to that they're comfortable with.

Email is such a difficult medium for most people to adequately express themselves in. There are so many different styles of communication with it that no, there isn't much of an established etiquette. You really sort of need to state your intent clearly. I don't think you need to apologize, but I'm one of those people who yells at other people who say "sorry" too much. It'll be helpful to both you and your penpal to establish goals, here. Are you heading towards a more well-rounded friendship? Or are you strictly all about this story? There is nothing wrong about expressing a desire to know this. And if it turns out this person is story-only, then you know to look elsewhere for different kinds of online interaction.
posted by Mizu at 6:29 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I got your a long email from an online friend last week. It was full of interesting information and some soul baring. You haven't He hasn't done anything wrong, I'm just a procrastinator and feel awful about not replying yet. My money's on that being the case with your correspondent.

What would make me really happy is if you took the advice above of writing a short back-on-topic email with a one line, lighthearted postscript something along the lines of "Sorry about the last epistle, was having a bad day, feel free to ignore!".

I understand your concern but I'm sure that a large percentage of the online population worries unnecessarily about stuff like this. Best of luck!
posted by humph at 6:48 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Rather than apologizing too much, feel free to send a followup with some other brief thoughts and include a quick, "Sorry about the novel the other night, clearly I have too much time on my hands! :)"
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:09 AM on July 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

It's obviously not something you do habitually, so I don't think a profuse apology is necessary. Everyone gaffes on the Internet eventually; the key is not to dwell on it.
posted by Cash4Lead at 7:40 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

"Hey, hope all's well and you are enjoying yourself! Shoot me a note when you can!"
posted by thinkpiece at 8:49 AM on July 19, 2012

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