Social Media's Sacrifice of Sarcasm

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That highly-touted, often-quoted, super- scientific website “Mother Nature Network” on the internet is now reporting that the internet is dealing the death blow to sarcasm. To quote the website: “Of course, that statement could be dripping with sarcasm and you wouldn't know it. Don’t worry, your sarcasm detector isn’t broken. It’s just that words on a screen — the prevailing mode of communication in the digital age — just can’t handle the fine nuances that sarcasm requires. As a result, sarcasm is dying. And if anything, the internet is dealing the death blow.” I sure hope that America’s dear friend and ally, that poor self-sacrificing Vladimir Putin doesn’t hear of this. Of course, this report also coincides with and is an indicator of the end of the world, which will happen in just a few months.

 

At least they back up their claim with some scientific data: “In a study published by the American Psychological Association, researchers noted several "paralinguistic" cues — the gestures, intonation, emphasis, even the expression on the speaker’s face — were just as essential for conveying information as the words themselves. But as the researchers pointed out, those cues are lost in digital translation. Even worse, people on the internet don't always realize nobody is getting their sarcasm.” So all of those puns I use, taking phrases and titles and altering them just slightly, aren’t hitting their target, like my recent essay “Doors of Deception” a play on Aldous Huxley’s “Doors of Perception” aren’t hitting their mark.

 

I have always liked sarcasm, but I have known for some time that it doesn’t always hit its mark. As literacy in general declines, (and not that I am super-literate by any means) using phrases or passages taken from famous books makes people think that I devised them. I’m now thinking that my disparaging of certain individuals who have done everything they can to make my life miserable actually took my essays as compliments. Now that I think of it, people who described me as smart and my writing interesting might not have been complimenting me at all. Man, this sarcasm thing is complicated.  

 

I agree, delivery is everything, but then, maybe not. Referring to famous phrases and titles may indeed be lost in translation, or misunderstood in context. The article further states: “They suggest it’s an overconfidence "born of egocentrism, the inherent difficulty of detaching oneself from one's own perspective when evaluating the perspective of someone else." I realize that they’re complimenting me here, and I really don’t need the praise, thanks anyway.

 

I suppose the quotes and plays on the writings of Nietzsche, Rousseau, Descartes and other thinkers are being lost. So why have them, and more importantly, why read them when the puns miss their mark? Well, there’s some of that in the article as well. I have known for some time that sarcasm is missed by young people, who have to develop from slapstick to sarcasm. I suppose they thought that my praise of One Direction as being “a band for all eternity” was genuine. An important quote of the article: “As the brain develops, so too does its ability to move on from overt physical humor to the more sophisticated humor of sarcasm. Researchers have found that a healthy ability to give and receive sarcasm is a major factor in the brain’s ability to problem-solve and think creatively.” Ah, there we go, that critical thinking ability, to distinguish between genuine praise and the somewhat soft criticism of sarcasm.  

 

Maybe we’ve just not exposed these youngsters, and others as well, to enough sarcasm to help them understand the difference. Perhaps my praise of that history teacher was taken seriously when I told him, “yes, writing a twenty page paper on Greek pottery will certainly alter, in an excellent way, my view of humanity.” Or not.  One of the more frightening trends is the use of symbols, especially when viewed as a sign of hope: “Maybe society’s shift toward emoji-based communication will help fill in a few of those paralinguistic cues and let sarcasm thrive again.”

 

Or maybe some people (I’m not saying who here) might need to back down on the hundreds of instant messages about very little, and hours and hours of games on their phones, open a book and read something. I realize just how cruel and unusual this is, but my sadistic nature has temporarily taken control of my brain. By reading how other writers have put together their thoughts, maybe those people missing the sarcastic tones might make some more connections. Or maybe people like me should just stop making these puns and references that most people don’t get, and embrace this emoji language that will certainly become icons of the English language in a very short while, and all that I have learned about writing will become, if it is not already, obsolete. Obsolete, yeah, that’s the ticket. :) (I left the links in for those of you that want to see the sources.)

Comments

Thomas Sutrina Added Mar 17, 2018 - 1:12pm
Political Correctness is killing  sarcasm just as in actually has killed people in the Muslim world.  Today ones livelihood is on the line.  How far ones life will be on the line is the question.  We already know that Putin and small rocket-man have reached death for not being politically correct.
 
The finer level that your talking about has been lost because political correctness in education is drastically changing the content presented to our children.   So even if one reads a classic the interpretation presented by the system is not even close to what was presented a few decades ago or sometime a few years.  Your right how can you apply sarcasm when the audience is so diverse.
Neil Lock Added Mar 17, 2018 - 1:22pm
Jeff, you missed the <cras/> tag off the end of your article.
Jeff Jackson Added Mar 17, 2018 - 3:08pm
Thanks Thomas. I agree that certain cultures will not "get" sarcasm if they are not aware of the context. I'm not worried about folks not getting all of the sarcasm. Thanks for your comments.
Jeff Jackson Added Mar 17, 2018 - 3:09pm
Enter your comment here...
George N Romey Added Mar 17, 2018 - 3:31pm
Considering the number of people in power with a stick up their ass we no longer have humor, humility and the ability to laugh at ourselves.
Pardero Added Mar 17, 2018 - 4:26pm
Jeff Jackson,
I may be one of those that the fine art of sarcasm is lost on. Although I purchased Strunk and White's "The Elements of Sarcasm" years ago, I have never cracked it open as I acquired it only as a prop to indicate that I consider myself a pseudo-intellectual of sorts.
Jeff Jackson Added Mar 17, 2018 - 4:54pm
Exactly, George. In the corporate world, I have been rather sarcastic and it was greatly unappreciated. When someone quits during your shift and you have to email the boss, don't express your appreciation that they are gone. Thanks for the comments.
Jeff Jackson Added Mar 17, 2018 - 4:58pm
Pardero, you make very good sense and you write like a logical and intelligent person, so, in terms of writing, I would not consider you a slouch by any definition.  My habits of puns and references to obscure writers and philosophers just makes people think that I am sometimes "weird" mostly because they didn't get the joke. Telling jokes over peoples' heads will not earn you admiration, and I'm pure living proof of that.
Pardero Added Mar 17, 2018 - 5:16pm
Jeff Jackson,
I will read your articles with a keen eye lest I miss something.
Dave Volek Added Mar 17, 2018 - 5:20pm
Jeff
I was wondering why I never caught on to emoji's and expressions like $-,._+ (when they aren't used a cuss words). I like sarcasm. 
 
I sometimes wonder if I get famous, will my enemies use my blog and WB articles against me--as I do employ some minor literary devices to make a point; sarcasm being one of the them. 
 
When Fred Smith moved from Springtown to Bomfield, the average IQ in both towns increased. I wonder how many people will get that joke these days. 
Jeff Jackson Added Mar 17, 2018 - 7:43pm
Thanks Pardero. Yes, some of the references are a bit eccentric.
Jeff Jackson Added Mar 17, 2018 - 7:48pm
Dave, I wouldn't worry about people using your WB stances against you. Things change, people change, viewpoints change. However, I did get rather unhappy with several professors that "lost" my papers. I do not like papers "out there" when I don't know where they are. Some institutions insist that papers are "university property" but I would bet that position would not stand up in court, although someone with more legal understanding might explain why a university "owns" my work. Sorry, you got me on the Fred Smith reference. Is that a Canadian thing?
Flying Junior Added Mar 18, 2018 - 1:49am
Fun stuff Jeff.  Thanks for not muddying the water with too much sarcasm.  I'll tell my own funny story further down the thread.
 
Thinking maybe Mr. Sutrina is trying his hand at sarcasm?  It can be difficult to tell.
Dino Manalis Added Mar 18, 2018 - 8:15am
Don't be sarcastic!  Be as positive as possible!
Jeff Jackson Added Mar 18, 2018 - 8:28am
Thank you Junior, I tried to keep it all facts and to stay away from conjecture or pointless criticism. One of the VPs where I used to work told me he really liked reading my emails, with all of the colorful phrases and references to classical literature. Thanks for the comments.
Jeff Jackson Added Mar 18, 2018 - 8:31am
Thanks Dino. Remember, we all get better with some constructive criticism, like the prof telling me not to use awkward phrases like "not the least of which." I asked him what phrase could describe it better, but he had no answer. I guess he needed some serious sarcasm. Thanks for the comments Dino, keep 'em coming. 
Doug Plumb Added Mar 18, 2018 - 9:36am
People are writing often now, particularly younger ones whom would not be considered literate and may never write a single word (no letters even - we have phones). This is in its early stages of evolution. I've read some great sarcasm as one liners on facebook. Also, art has been coming back in this digital format, which does involve a capacity for abstractions as well as sarcasm. Lots of great political cartooning going on.
The written word is a better form of communication for things that intelligent people discuss on the web. Its not really suitable for dating. I can't imagine how texting someone is the same as speaking to them in that context, but in the context of political discourse, the conversations tend to be productive.
Benjamin Goldstein Added Mar 18, 2018 - 11:35am
Oh, yeah, sure, sarcasm died with Twitter.
Jeff Jackson Added Mar 18, 2018 - 1:23pm
Thanks for the input, Doug. I have had females write me poems, and I have written poems to females knew and liked or that I wanted to know better. In fact, you can still read them, as far as I know they are still on the walls of the cave that we lived in before the computer age. Thanks for your comments.
Jeff Jackson Added Mar 18, 2018 - 1:27pm
Thanks Benjamin, good to know. I keep hearing about this twitter thing. I'm going to have to dial my cousin and ask her about this. The problem is that my phone cord doesn't stretch to my computer so I can't talk to her and look at my screen at the same time. Thanks for the input.
The Burghal Hidage Added Mar 18, 2018 - 2:44pm
interesting piece Jeff. Thanks for sharing.  I've always been of the mind that you get it or you don't. IF, I were in the market to place a personal ad my criteria would be very simple: Female, unencumbered, must get Dennis Miller.
 
Sarcasm has been replaced by snark.
 
My mind is wired the way that it is. I gave up a looonngg time ago trying to explain everything. This loss of nuance I think is a subtle form of Newspeak.
Dave Volek Added Mar 18, 2018 - 2:52pm
Jeff
"Fred" is may strawman when I need to use and individual to make a point. When I first heard this joke from a cowboy comparing two rival towns, I really had to unravel it.
Flying Junior Added Mar 18, 2018 - 3:39pm
More than once I have ended up with egg on my face because I didn't realize that something was intended to be sarcastic.  Then finally the revers happened to me.
 
I was at the much venerated, the FIELD NEGRO, when I thought I would try my hand at a little bit of comedy in the style of Dave Chapelle.  I spoke in the voice of an geriatric southerner whose, "Grandaddy was a slave holder."  My sarcastic comment that followed got me in some hot water with our favorite Bible expositor, GrannyStandingForTruth.  She gave me a good dressing down.  I tried to apologize, but she never read my apology until nearly a year later,  Finally we spoke, she told me, "You're fine with me," and apologized for not seeing the humor.
Benjamin Goldstein Added Mar 18, 2018 - 3:53pm
I never had an issue with understanding sarcasm or jokes (btw sometimes I'm sarcastic and I joke) what is more difficult for me is to decipher real antisemitism. 
 
Recently there are these "antisemites" that pop up on conservative German forums, but they are different from Youtube comments and what we occasionally see on WB. They don't try to convince people of their Rothschild-Hasbara-Khazar theory, but rather throw insults. I think they are government trolls. They try both, to shut up Jews and to discredit conservative blogs.
Flying Junior Added Mar 18, 2018 - 5:36pm
Sounds familiar.
Jeff Jackson Added Mar 18, 2018 - 7:05pm
Burghal- Dennis Miller is in a class all by himself. Most of his are sarcastic analogies. One I remember quite distinctly was when he described Andrew Dice Clay as "Fonzie with Tourette's Symdrome" hilarious. Thanks for comments.
Jeff Jackson Added Mar 18, 2018 - 7:13pm
Benjamin, the Rothschild conspiracy is just another one of those "conspiracies" that never seem to end. I consider anyone beginning with that premise as a whack job, and any explanation after that I ignore. I ignore the conspiracy theorists, and have written at least one essay on how insane they are.  Thanks for comments.
Phil Greenough Added Mar 19, 2018 - 8:47am
This is the golden age of writing for young people.  In the past young people would be chat on the phone for hours or be lost in some video game. Today they text like fiends.  Texting has taught them how to be concise.  The worst writers are those that take forever to get to the same point one can get to in a few words.  So what if they throw in an occasional emoji to make their point, at least they’re writing.  I say all this without even bringing up email.  How many more letters get written since that marvelous invention?
George N Romey Added Mar 19, 2018 - 8:53am
I wouldn’t call texting writing. It doesn’t necessarily translate into writing something beyond a couple of text oriented words. It’s great for very simple communication but not for critical thinking. Just look at the rants on Twitter.
Jeff Jackson Added Mar 19, 2018 - 9:23am
Phil I wish you were right, but like all of the digital-age stuff, the ability to concentrate on things for any length of time is just not there. I mention 5 page papers and students almost go into convulsions. It's all short stuff. That more communication gets done with email is indisputable, but maybe the same amount of documents are created, we just send the same document to more people. The copier and electronic typewriters accomplished the same thing. 
We have more information, we aren't really using it. We have more ability to communicate much easier, and that too, is not being used to anywhere near its potential. I'm seeing a lot of mush exchanged, while meaningful conversations, not as much. Thanks for your comments Phil. 
Jeff Jackson Added Mar 19, 2018 - 10:17am
I'm with George on this one, I do not consider texting as any type of formal writing, at least not in the area of complex ideas with nuanced influences. Thanks for the comments George. 
Benjamin Goldstein Added Mar 19, 2018 - 3:19pm
I agree with Phil. Twitter has improved the writing and also the critical thinking of a generation. So have other social media.
 
The reason for the panic censorship efforts of Zuckerberg, Google and co is that people became too critical and too informed.
The Burghal Hidage Added Mar 20, 2018 - 3:47am
writing ( the market, not the crime) can be like many other products available to consume. Like beverages. One imbibes the poisons that appeal to the individual palate and that their constitution will allow.
Or automobiles, let's say.  If one is shopping for an Oldsmobile and strays upon a Lexus dealer? Or vice versa. 
 
There are markets for Chevys(vies?), Cadillacs and Mercedes all, but they do not typically attract the same shoppers. So with writing. Some like fiction, some don't. On the occasion I get these whiny " Oh thats too long!", I just say "No, it isn't. This is not twitter. If thats what you like then go there. I don't do twitter"
 
Brevity has it's place.  Through years I composed I don't know how much business correspondence. It's a different voice. I became quite good at it because I had to. But business correspondence, pardon my French here, is BORING AS FUCK!
 
The Burghal Hidage Added Mar 20, 2018 - 3:54am
Jeff - Dennis Miller is indeed in a class by himself. I loved his brief stint on MNF. I remember tuning in to one game with him in the booth. I was on the road somewhere and was checking out the game at a sports bar. There were maybe 70-80 people in the place. At one point he made some remark about a particular defensive set, something to the effect of " these varying defensive schemes are shrouded in more mystery than Plantagenet bloodlines".  I was the only person in the house who laughed. That made me feel good at the time, but then I thought "Oh, he's not going to last long at this"
Even A Broken Clock Added Mar 20, 2018 - 10:52am
Jeff - unfortunately we are becoming a society where more communication occurs via writing or texting, but as you note, what's on a screen is only a 2 dimensional representation of language, and it misses all of the contextual clues that a voice or a face-to-face conversation is able to convey. Maybe emoji's provide some extra measure of intent, but an emoji is a poor substitute for real communication. But I'm sure that the younger generations who are hooked on these forms of communication will have satisfying emotional lives that they will look back in fond memory as they recall the twitter moment that changed their life for the better.
 
I'd better quit. My cheek hernia is acting up.
Jeff Jackson Added Mar 20, 2018 - 12:59pm
I'm sorry Benjamin, I'm not seeing a lot of writing skills nor critical thinking skills displayed in Facebook or other social media. When considering how gullible these folks are from the fake news that they are incapable of critically analyzing that is coming out of social media, I find it hard to see any writing skills or critical thinking in those "social media experts" incapable of discerning fact from fiction.  
Benjamin Goldstein Added Mar 20, 2018 - 1:54pm
Jeff J: I don't have FB experience. We have to hand over our phone numbers to log in and conservatives are regularly kicked off. Once you are kicked off you are expected to give more of your personal information like your ID card, driver license etc. So I cannot judge FB.
 
Twitter is open to all readers. I was on it until they started censoring and I was kicked off. But I notice how it informs the users quite well. You are just more aware of the lies that float around.
 
Remember that New York Times journalist Walter Durante received a Pulitzer Prize for reporting on the Soviets despite the fact that he lied about the holodomor (he denied the mass murder). We unmask such things today rather quickly and also happen to see each others madness.
 
Twitter also happens to teach you to find proper words so you can be short. It you don't get around with your explanation, you probably don't think straight.
mark henry smith Added Mar 22, 2018 - 3:26pm
I was thinking today about the songs and nursery rhymes of my childhood, which had stood the test of time for hundreds of years, the stories, Aesops Fables, The Brothers Grimm's Fairy Tales, Robert Louis Stevenson, Alice in Wonderland, great works filled with all kinds of twisted thinking and a bit of sarcasm in places, that taught kids to expect the unexpected. Then there was Charles Dickens and Great Expectations, a story that all kids of mediocre means, and romantic hearts could love.
 
This PC culture we live in teaches kids to be little automatons, but think they're being original when they lay down the same three-chord riff for the thousandth time and whine about that best-friend's girlfriend. And they think clever is snarky talk, when the truth is the opposite. William F. Buckley was the master of the witty, sarcastic statement, but done politely. I loved watching him as a kid, even though his politics weren't acceptable. It's where I learned to love a great arguer, even if I didn't agree with their argument.