Recently, I exchanged a series of texts about possible places to have a celebratory dinner. Because I was hurrying, I didn’t choose my words carefully and typed, “X café sounds O.K.” Without meaning to I conveyed an underwhelmed reaction, which then required clarifying texts. I actually agreed with the suggested restaurant, but my reply didn’t sound like it. Sigh.
Electronic communication lacks the cues that tone of voice offers in a phone call or body language expresses in person. Emojis help, but not enough. Often the exact tone I’m looking for doesn’t come in an emoji.
These days, when I receive an ordinary text like, “I’ll pick you up at 6:00,” or “I sent the package,” I’m likely to reply, “Great!” There’s nothing extraordinary, wonderful, or truly great about the moment. I feel completely neutral—no excitement, no elevated enthusiasm—I’m just trying to acknowledge the message in a pleasant way.
Used to be, exclamation points signaled excitement or surprise. The writing professors I had urged caution—use exclamation points sparingly. I took their advice and rarely used them. Now, I regularly disregard those guidelines when I’m texting and emailing.
“Great!” has become the equivalent of “O.K.”—what I would have said by phone, because my warm tone would make my reaction clear.
Now that innocuous word can be freighted with an unintentionally cranky or passive-aggressive tone (Typing These Two Letters Will Scare Your Young Co-Workers: Everything was O.K. until you wrote “O.K.”)
“O.K.,” can be construed as flat and potentially unhappy. It seems similar to the irritated “Fine.” You know— “Fine” said in the tone which means sonot fine. “Fine” as in I won’t argue now, but we’re not done. Fighting words.
I wish texts were only used for simple, neutral messages like schedules, grocery lists, or where to meet. But I’ve bowed to the reality that for many people, texts are their default communication, even when the subject matter is emotion-laden and would be better handled in person or in a phone call. There would be less chance of confusion or hurt feelings. So in the interest of good communication, I’m inflating my word choice and punctuation.
And that’s O.K., er, Great!!!