OMG, You’re a Newbie! :-)

Yeah. You’ve gotten a computer and an Internet connection and a whole new communication encounter is awaiting you, including an arcane new language. Oh, there are some who would argue that clever three-letter acronyms (TLAs), slang and odd arrangements of punctuation marks do not comprise an actual language, but I am of the opinion that any written or spoken method of communication counts. The popularity of the Internet has ensured that these new ways to express ourselves has spread and taken root.

This post is intended to provide the Internet neophyte (aka “newbie”), with information intended to help make your Internet experience easier-going.

In meatspace, everyone can hear you ROFL

 

The rise of the Internet brought with it terms like “emoticon” and “meat space.” We’re now seeing on billboards and in television commercials punctuation marks arranged so as to communicate emotions like happiness and displeasure. These are what is known as “emoticons”, or an “icon” that depicts “emotion.” We are encountering Internet acronyms in spoken language. The other day I overheard someone pronouncing the word “loll” in response to a joke, and I knew that they were verbalizing the three-letter-acronym that means “lots of laughter”, or “LOL.”

When you encounter these things, whether it’s on the Internet or in “meatspace” (interactions that take place outside of the Internet, also known as “real life”), it’s nice to have access to a dictionary. Yes, Internet lingo dictionaries exist. Check out, for example, NetLingo.

If you interact with people on discussion groups (also known as newsgroups, forums, and “boards”), you’ll discover a rich panoply of terms and phrases that stem, not from the Internet or the technology world, but from their diverse cultures. Unless you share your correspondent’s culture, it’s best not to assume you know the meaning of their words. English is the language used most often in Internet interactions, but English spoken in England, Australia, Canada, or English spoken by persons whose first language is something other than English differs from that spoken by Americans. If you have doubts as to the meaning of a word or phrase, don’t hesitate to politely ask the people using it.

Pssst! Don’t pass this on!

 

For some inexplicable reason, most newbies undergo a sort of e-mail rite of passage. Almost without fail the first thing a newbie does is somehow find a joke and send it to everyone they know. Everyone. If not jokes then heartwarming stories or dire warnings about some guy waking up in a strange hotel room, immersed in a bathtub full of ice with his kidneys missing. Newbies will forward forwards of forwarded messages until their hapless victims receive a message that is miles long filled with the e-mail addresses of everyone who ever had an Internet connection, a few lines of badly wrapped text that say things like “So true!”, and the heartwarming story/joke/warning waaaay at the bottom. It’s not long before they’re forwarding terabytes of photos of kittens making faces and puppies dressed in little costumes. Hoaxes, too.

The story about the kidneys, plus ones about being able to dial “9” and “0” to commandeer your phone line, or about a dying little boy collecting e-mails, and millions of others are oft-circulated hoaxes.

I have one word for you:

Don’t.

I can expand that, if you like: Resist the urge. Any joke you get, any story sent to you has, without any doubt, been around on the Internet and been sent to every known human being with a computer a dozen times over already. Even the other newbies. Trust me on this one. Do not add to the junk that’s flying around the ‘net.

If someone does send you a “true” story that urges you to pass it along, there’s a simple way to check it: go to Snopes and type in a phrase from the story you’ve received. If it’s a hoax, Snopes will tell you. If it’s true, Snopes will tell you. Then reply to the person who sent you the hoax and let them know about it.

Giving in to the urge

 

Finally, if you do get a story or joke that you absolutely cannot resist the urge sending, then do your friends a favor: strip out the e-mail addresses in the message before forwarding it, and make use of the blind carbon copy, or “Bcc:” field of your e-mail program. When you put everyone’s e-mail address in the “To:” field, then everyone who gets a copy of that message sees the addresses of everyone else who got it. Sometimes you’ll send messages to people who may not know one another (or your e-mail list will in turn be forwarded), and some people may not want their e-mail address given out to strangers. When you use blind carbon the message will go out to everyone, but the e-mail addresses are stripped from the message before being sent to each individual. No one sees who else got the message. Put your own e-mail address in the “To” field if your ISP requires a valid address.

If you do use the Bcc field be aware that a few people will block your message because their name was not in the “To” or “Cc” field. They are doing that to try to cut back on the amount of spam (unwanted advertisements) they receive. If you know people who block blind-carboned messages, then consider not sending them that cute joke, or send it to them individually.

Note: this article first appeared in the “Start Here” column for “Computer Bits” magazine in September, 2004