WHY IS EVERYONE ON THE INTERNET SO GRUMPY?

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WHY DOES IT SEEM LIKE EVERYONE I EMAIL OR INSTANT MESSAGE GETS ANGRY OR CURT WITH ME? DOES THE INTERNET JUST MAKE PEOPLE GRUMPY?

Well, computers and the internet certainly make people upset from time to time, but in this case, I’ll bet it’s something much more specific.

In this case, it might just be you.

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All upper case

The “problem” may be that you’re typing your message in all upper-case characters. Internet users, particularly those who have been around a while, interpret that as shouting.

Imagine you’re having a conversation in a quiet room with someone who is shouting loudly for no apparent reason, instead of talking normally. You’d get grumpy, too.

All caps as shouting has become deeply ingrained in net etiquette, or “netiquette”. When reading text in all caps, many people internalize that as shouting without even thinking about it, and react accordingly. Regardless of your reasons for doing so, you can’t control their reactions. Even with the best of intentions on your part, they will internalize your words as being SHOUTED AT THEM.

Grumpy Cat
Grumpy Cat – the internet’s patron saint of grumpiness.

They’re likely to get grumpy.

You may not be doing it on purpose, but I definitely suggest using all caps only for emphasis, or when you’re trying to convey that you are, in fact, shouting.

RFC 1855 – Netiquette Guidelines has a good summary that includes this and many other things to keep in mind as you communicate on the internet.

Readability

Whenever I discuss this topic, I hear back from people who use all caps to make their text easier to read. Perhaps they have vision issues, and all caps is a quick and easy solution.

Find another solution.

As I said, your legitimate and benign reason for using all caps does not affect how someone reading your words “hears” them. They will hear you shouting at them.

Most programs today have a variety of solutions, including making the font/typeface larger, increasing the native zoom of your computer’s display, or even switching to high contrast themes that are intended to make things more easily visible for those with issues.

Investigate those alternatives. Avoid all caps.

Unless, of course, you really to mean to shout.

27 comments on “WHY IS EVERYONE ON THE INTERNET SO GRUMPY?”

  1. Hi,

    I get letters from a few who claim a disability of some kind forces them to use the uppercase (visual impairment, motor problems).

    My suggestion has been that with the advent of the Web, a popular idea seems to be that typing in all-lowercase letters has become just as valid as using all-uppercase letters. Before the Web (and e-mail, IMs, etc) only all uppercase was considered to be a “correct” alternative to mixed-case writing.

    This being the general consensus (and I think it is), methinks a person typing in all lowercase letters will spark fewer complaints (etc) than the all-caps typist.

    Since I can type in mixed-case with no problem, I will make the effort to do so whenever I can. Why? Simple: people who do lots and lots of reading tend to have a much easier time with “correctly” written text. Those who do very little reading will not notice much of a slowdown from all-caps writing or from spelling the phrase “why are you” by writing “y r u” instead. But many “power readers” will notice a big difference, because much of what our brains do while reading is on “automatic pilot,” if you will.

    It’s easier to type, but that much harder to read. (Hint, hint!)

    Take care!

    Cliff

  2. I forgot to mention that faced with the choice, I would prefer all-lowercase to all-caps any day, because lowercase is by far the easier of the two to read.

    Take care!

    Cliff

  3. We are not all grumpy Leo. I am very happy with your newsletter.
    I even bought you a Latte! Unfortunately, some people are only happy when they are complaining.

  4. Just a comment in reference to the above upper-case lower-case debate. I think people who think they’re being shouted at should realize this is typing, not talking. It’s cyberworld, not the real world, and if this is the worst of your problems, you need a real life.

  5. I fully disagree with what all you said, the Caps LOCK key on the keyboard wasnt put here for the reason you explaned. What is the Caps LOCK for?.
    Certainly not the word shouting. To my knowledge it is used to capitalize the first letter of a certain word in a sentence,of name of a city,state etc.To begin a word with a capital letter, WHEN I TYPE LIKE THIS, I DONT HEAR ANYTHING,NO SOUND,NO NOTHING,I DON’T HEAR A VOICE THAT SAYS YOUR SHOUTING, TYPING LIKE THIS HELPS THE PARTLY BLIND,PLUS TOO GRANDMA can read it,,and she has trouble reading this small print.I really get grumpy when some people dont have anything better to do than talk about what is etiquette and what isn’t. The Caps LOCK is a useful key, just like the “P” key it looks like a tongue to one side of the mouth or a “D”key full lip or open mouth. I have glaucoma a disease of the eyes, it is very helpfull to me when people use the caps lock, on this site when you talk try and educate people about something that helps everyone, not the ones that think Caps LOCK is just for shouting or “WHY IS EVERYONE ON THE INTERNET SO GRUMPY?”.Another thing, don’t use EVERYONE because i am one and not everyone, I speak for myself, not for everyone. So there forth im not Grunmpy

  6. Sorry for mispelling GRUMPY in my last sentence

    Cliff you quoted:
    (I forgot to mention that faced with the choice, I would prefer all-lowercase to all-caps any day, because lowercase is by far the easier of the two to read.)

    It may be easiser for you to read all-lowercase, but for the most of us, Caps are better, i said most not all.

    Casey

  7. It’s not about been GRUMPY by not warming to
    ALL-CAPS and it’s not all about shouting, but merely expecting consistency with email. Those that receive hundreds of emails daily (as I do)and practice speed reading, are definitely definitely slowed with unusual font styles.

    Tony

  8. Hello,
    I was surfing and looking for some reference to show a person that is writing in all caps, well he doesn’t write in all caps all the time, he does write like most people do some times. Well anyways he does write alot in caps and it bugs me. He does have a whacked out eye but the guy rides bikes with me and doesn’t seem to have a problem. Your page is not really a good one to show him cause it perpetuates the problem. Instead of tolerating the all caps writing, why not have the person increase their font size on their computer? There’s even a simple program that magnifies where you want to magnify. Just like a magnifying glass. This would be a far better option than tolerating it.

  9. I have read the posted comments, some I agree with, most I think are just trying to prove their point of view as the best, even if it is a minority. I do agree that as one poster said, it is easier for GRANDMA TO READ, but pardon me, Do I look like your Grandma? If you are no longer typing to her, your caps lock will unlock without even having the key, try it sometime. When we speak in verbal conversation, we have many ways of placing empathasis on our words, softer, louder, high pitched, low pitched, spaced wording. If we are to have a conversation on the net by typing, why take the limited amount of expression from us if you dislike the tediousness of releasing your caps lock key and using the shift+letter combo for begining setences. I know we have a very lazy soceity, but why make it that much worse, just to save you some tedious keystrokes, yet spend an hour defending your laziness
    (Shouting voice) ENOUGH SAID (regular voice) learn that etiquette is for everybody, and not changed for you just because you are (Shouting Voice) too lazy. See how mch more trouble it is to define your intentions using only one type of letter?
    Next time you write to Grandma, try using Caps lock, Bold lock and a font size of 24, I a sure she could probably read that, and hopefully she will reply to you in the same fashion and you will see how irratating it can get.

  10. Caps or No Caps…To be or not to be! What a kerfuffle about what ought to be a trivial matter. I’d hazard a guess if Rodney Dangerfield were still here he might add his two cents: “I don’t care if you write me a check for $200 or $2,000 — uh, oh, bad example — Just spell my name right, upper or lower case!”

    Sorry for my wretched atttempt at humor; just couldn’t resist. We take ourselves too seriously as it is.

  11. As an apprentice draughtsperson, I was taught to write everything in CAPS on drawings for clarity. Considering the state of my handwriting, I adopted this method for everything else, and still do (though in writing, I use large and small capitals much like upper and lower case).

    If people get grumpy over reading all-caps messages, I’d love to see what mental state they get in reading something written in LolCat…

    Handwritten text is quite different from our expectations of typed. In particular in Email all-caps has a very specific connotation that makes reading it very difficult. (But I’m with ya on the LolCat Smile.)

    Leo
    14-Jan-2010

  12. What about persons who never capitalize anything? I take that to mean the person is possibly illiterate, or at least under-educated.

  13. I would much prefer to read an all-caps message that is gramatically correct, with punctuation, than a single paragraph of lower case letters that apparently contains four or five sentences (something I have to deal with now and again).
    Mind you, I do think Caps-Lock is among the handfull of keys on a keyboard that are akin to the human appendix…

  14. I’ve turned off my caps lock key. Often all caps is a result of an accidentally pressed cap lock, and the writer is too frustrated to retype it all.

  15. There is an accessibility setting — it’s called Toggle Keys, and can be accessed by clicking on Start -> Run and entering “access.cpl” in the dialog — that you can set which will give you an audible alert if you accidentally press your caps-lock key without meaning to. I have this set, myself, and it has saved my bacon on numerous occasions, especially when no visual cue of the fact is given (as when I’m entering a password!) and in my not-so-humble opinion this behavior should be standard  in Windows, even for the non-handicapped!

    Much grief would be avoided if this very simple recommendation were followed (those who find it an annoyance could always turn it off).

  16. When the issue is one of visability one can understand why the use of CAP’s might be considered, however, pressing the “Ctrl” and “+” Keys, at the same time, will (in most cases) enlarge the text being read to the point of readability for those in need of larger type characters. Conversely, pressing the “Ctrl” and “-” keys will do the opposite.

  17. I read the “Netiquette” article but wondered about this statement in it: “Limit line length to fewer than 65 characters and end a line with a carriage return.” Does that refer to emails or something else? I thought we were supposed to just let paragraphs wrap. I’ve seen emails where there are all sorts of very short lines followed by a paragraph mark, and they are difficult to read. In fact, I’ve seen MY emails buried in part of longer emails, and what I let wrap has turned into that same difficult to read bunch of short lines. What was Netiquette talking about?

    Definitely email, though typically “plain text” format. The problem is that line-wrapping is something that happens on the recipients end, and depends on exactly how their email programs do it. Many don’t do it consistantly or at all. Particularly when it comes to plain text messages, manual line length control is typically very much appreciated by recipients.

    Leo
    22-Jan-2012
  18. Basic street wisdom says “believe half of what you see and none of what you hear” but Internet forums and blogs have changed this rule to simply “believe nothing” (think Photoshop). People posting on forums and blogs have next to no accountability and can say anything they want. Much like a drunk with “beer muscles”, they feel a certain level of invincibility…I’ve always referred to it as Internet muscles. Yes I’m pessimistic with this approach but it’s also very freeing because I’m not naïve enough to think that “everyone is grumpy”…they’re just posting on the Internet with their Internet muscles. Over time you can start to trust certain forums and certain users on those forums, but until then, doubt ALL OF IT (emphasis is semi-shouting)

    IMHO (acronyms are not shouting…DUH (that’s shouting)) 😛

    Gabe Lawrence PhD (shame on you if you believe the title)

  19. I used to get a boat-load of those Nigerian scam emails, and I noticed that in every single one of them, the whole message was written in uppercase lettering. Wouldn’t this be considered shouting too if it were done by voice? I’d also like to point out that some speech synthesizers spell things out letter by letter when written in all caps.

  20. I don’t give a rat’s whether upper or lower case, carries no sinister connotations to me either way. Though I often write in upper case and find it easier to read. Sometimes my upper case key gets stuck on and, at age 80, am just too lazy to retype. (Bummer though, when typing a lower case password and wondering why it doesn’t work:) My beef is the never-ending flood of humorous? trivial and often misleading articles which end with warning “I will die in my sleep if I don’t pass them on”. They are always in 30 or larger font on the presumption I can’t read anything less than billboard-sized print. OK…. so I’m old… and my vision is less than it used to be, but I can still manage normal 10 font. When on the rare occasion one merits passing on to a few friends, I drag-copy to a file.txt and then to a new blank message. That way I purge the huge insulting font and, more important, purge those ever-present “Free Emoticons” (which I regard as a virus). As the old Mafia Don once said: “Nothing in life is ‘free’. Everything has a price.” People who pass on everything should bear in mind the spectrum is a finite resource and these trivial messages contribute greatly to slowing down the internet, something we really don’t want.

  21. Anything that’s all in caps is just more difficult to read.
    Our brains are more used to reading in lower case, except for first letters of proper names, etc, so struggles to decipher writing that’s all in upper case at normal reading speed.

  22. If you do not like messages in all upper case, hit the delete key. They do not bother me. I use the delete key when a message contains internet shorthand like 4=four, r=are, etc. All upper case is trivial compared to using the wrong fork at the dinner table. I must make sure my trouser cuffs match the current fashion. That really is important.

    Save me from people who want to control everybody else.

    • What you do with all upper case when you get it is beside the point. That’s a matter of your own level of tolerance and empathy with the sender.

      When you write, though, you have a choice: use all upper case or not. Knowing that it will most likely be treated as shouting by whomever receives it, might make it less than a wise choice.

  23. I lost an online support job because I “shouted” at a client … (that’s ok, I made more money (hourly) picking up empty beer cans and bottles … really).

    How about the flip side. Idiot web sites that use input boxes that strip out all blank lines, and even some paragraph returns and leading spaces on sentences/paragraphs. The result is an unreadable blob of text, all run together … after I took the time to add some visual formatting to make my reply more readable.

    • Yep, I hate that myself. Facebook used to be like that, but I’m now finding that I can actually create paragraphs(!). Visual formatting is important.

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