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No, this has nothing to do with being dissed, dressed, or verbally charred by a gay male friend. Believe it or not, it’s a term given to “netiquette”, or lack thereof. Welcome to the new world order of communication!

In today’s society of the quick fix, microwave dinners and text messaging, who has time for etiquette when you’re writing an email or participating in a discussion group? Warning – make time! Have you ever found yourself in the middle of a heated discussion on a topic in which you have a passion, yet hold back emotions because you are standing face to face with your debater? There is a respect for space, a non-confrontational protocol most people honor when expressing their point of view in person. People usually take turns allowing each perspective some airtime. But what happens to us when, in the privacy of our own cyberspace domain, we let loose and express away with reckless abandon, driving our point forward and nailing our “opponent” to the wall, offering no chance of interruption from the opposing view. Enter the FLAME!

There is even a technical name for flaming, “online disinhibition”, which describes the uninhibited way people behave with less restraint while online. Another term, flamebait, refers to a posting that is intended to engage others in extremely robust responses. For now, let’s group emails and discussion groups into two categories; those poorly written and those ignited with intentional flames.

Attempts have been made with smiley faces and the like to lend a little humor or set the tone, since there is no way to communicate quite how the wording is meant to be received. Some texts are simply misunderstood sentences taken out of context because the reader reads with their perception only, which may not be the writer’s intention. Let’s face it, not everybody writes well or can poetically express exactly what they want to say. When writing a screenplay, the screenwriter composes the dialogue aligning it with the character’s personality and uses parentheticals for expression. That leaves no room for doubt on how a line should be delivered by the actor. “Scripting” an email might look something like this:

I was so happy to run into Christi at the award show last night. (I tried to avoid her all night) (tongue in cheek) I think that dress was absolutely gorgeous on her. And Amy was with the nicest escort. (seriously)

Ok, you get the idea. This can serve as a warning for those who email or participate in discussion groups to think about how your words may be perceived on the other end. It can be an opportunity to develop your literary skills and make it fun for people on the receiving end to read what you have written. But what about those of you who intentionally blast? Let’s address you flamers.

I was recently flamed by one of my best friends, who was going through a very rough time in her life. We had a discussion whereby I thought we agreed to disagree, but for some reason it lingered and festered in her mind. With so many other things pulling at her, I soon became the brunt of her anger and received an e-mail out of the blue that shook me to my foundation. Not allowed the dignity of a response, I read in agony, sentences I could not believe came form one of my best friends. Judgmental. Piercing. Devastating. Why?

”Wikipedia” describes flaming “as the act of sending or posting messages that are deliberately hostile and insulting”. “Flame War” is a new idiom for an online discussion or e-mail that morphs from casual dialogue to a heated exchange of attacks. So, why all the hostility?

A few years back at Rider University in Lawrenceville, NJ, a psychologist named Dr. John Suler, offered psychological reasons why people flame. For one, there is no “big brother” watching over what is written so there is a feeling of permission granted in the autonomy to state what is on one’s mind. That freedom is fortified by the anonymity of a “handle” or nom de plume one can hide behind. There is also a cushion of time between sending a flame and receiving any response to it. As more and more research is done in the psychology of flaming, researchers are finding humans simply relate differently in person than they do in cyberspace and cyberspace seems to be the perfect place to unleash the frustrations the day has heaped on in a world full of anxieties.

How do we overcome this phenomenon? Perhaps if you are the keeper of the flame – you should keep the flame to yourself. / Issue 70 - September 1326
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