This is a link to a New York Times article on the pitfalls of online communication through email. (There is some chance you might have to register with the NY Times to read it. But if you do, registration is free and the NY Times has a lot of cool stuff to read!)
E-Mail is Easy to Write (and to Mis-Read) by Daniel Goleman, Oct. 7, 2007
This is a timely topic, one that affects most of us online sooner or later. Emoticons can only convey so much. There is no substitute for the sight of a true smile or a furrowed brow or the twinkle in the eye that shows the well intentioned humor behind words. We are humans and there is a reason why we have no thick fur on our naked faces. Communication between us for thousands of years has been enhanced by visual and auditory clues that we can see when we are face to face. Now millions of us struggle to convey our thoughts and information to people whom we never see and who never see us. This is a whole new adventure in communication which we struggle to get through without relying on the evolutionary advantages we've been given which were meant to grease the wheels of understanding between us.
Recently a Florida teenager "fell in love" with a 46 year old pedophile she met on the internet and ran away with him. A 56 year old Louisiana woman killed herself when she realized that she had lost $400,000 to a con man whose emails had convinced her that she had won a lottery prize. E-mail loops are formed of groups of online friends who have never met and then most are astounded to learn at some point that one or more in the group are not whom they seemed to be. People connect and cut themselves off from each other based on their interpretation of the typed words on their monitor.
We are walking a tightrope of tiny letters on a white background with no net of facial expression or voice to save us if we fall.