The Art of Interwebs Conversation

I’m all for the internet, in case this has escaped anyone’s attention. I’ve dated from online, I’ve met friends online, I pay bills online, I read online. You get the point. Me and Internet are BFFs.

What I don’t get is how the online users – that is, people just like you and me – can be so clueless about how to conduct a conversation. I’m not talking about the chat room stuff or even really poor use of grammar, sentence structure, and “LOLspeak,” whatever the hell that is. I’m just referring to two people holding a conversation keyboard to keyboard; regular folks who know one another.

Having an online conversation through some kind of instant messenger client is not really all that different from conducting one in person. The only difference is you have to be up front about when you’re not at the keyboard. The same rules apply from a real life conversation where you try not to interrupt and you reply accordingly, and most importantly, you reciprocate and ask questions. I’m going to repeat that: reciprocate and ask questions.

This isn’t a woman thing. This is just “how it is.” In order to keep conversation going, one must have the ability to take what someone has said, make a reference point, and either ask a follow-up question or ask a question that s/he doesn’t know about the other person. Even if it’s as simple as, “How was your weekend?” If you don’t know the answer to the question, it has merit and should be asked. And if you run out of questions, cite anecdotes.

If you ran into a friend in a coffee shop or someplace, you wouldn’t run up to that person and start yammering on about your woes and your life and then not ask that person what’s going on with him or her. It’s rude! (And if you do do this, I would not be your friend.) The exact same thing that is rude in real life is rude on the Internet. Yes, it’s easier to blow someone off when you’re online. But the kind of etiquette I’m talking about here is only relevant to people who converse regularly, in case I’m not making this clear. Hearing from an ex or chatting with someone who only contacted you because s/he’s bored doesn’t count. We know these conversations aren’t going to adhere to any kind of guidelines.

So, if conversation stalls, ask a question. The key here is that each person must actively participate. It cannot be one-sided. Conversation is not meant to be one-sided. I could talk to a wall if I wanted no response.

I have several friends with whom I chat online daily. We have a routine. It’s comfortable. And for all I know, this is a “birds of a feather” situation. Like attracts like. Conversation flows easily with no awkwardness. But there are times when I chat with a person and I am reminded that not everyone is up to speed with Conversation Etiquette 101.

At least from my perspective, silence/no response on the Internet is just as egregious as a non-response face-to-face. I’m not talking about if a person is at work and has to dash away from the computer. But if you’re actively talking and a person just drops the conversation altogether, or leaves the computer and comes back with no reply to what you’ve said 30-40 minutes prior, that makes no sense to me whatsoever. What has just been said is still lingering and you can see it on the screen. If I want to type and get zero response, I’ll write in my journal.

I can’t stress this enough. Reciprocity, my friends. Word of the day, week, year, life. Ask questions. Respond accordingly. Engage with your fellow wo/man, preferably who also knows and uses The Rules. Guaranteed satisfying conversation will ensue. I know I don’t enjoy breaking out my “WTF” face because yet again, I’ve conducted a conversation that has turned out to be meaningless.

The back and forth, give and take nature that I speak of is applicable to “IRL” conversations. Most of the time when people say a date went horribly bad, it’s because conversation totally blew chunks. See faces of the two people below, enduring awkwardness, especially the guy on the right.

It’s about courtesy, respect, and an enjoyment of the dialogue occurring between two people. Some people might call that synergy. There’s a reason there is an art to this. It’s not arbitrary.

Go forth and have meaningful conversations.

Merci pour votre attention.


  1. I know exactly what you mean! It irks me so much when someone disappears in the middle of a conversation, or worse, doesn’t seem to care at all about me after going on and on and on about themselves.

  2. Kevin Schneider says:

    I hate when people cite “antidotes” instead of “anecdotes.” That really gets my goat.

  3. Sing it, sistah! Now what or who set you off on this one?

  4. Oh man…this is so right on..and sadly I think I am a bad online chatter!

  5. I 100% know that I haven abandoned chats for extended periods of time. Guilty. But I think I usually come back super apologetic. Hopefully that makes up partially for lost etiquette points.

    • D, out of every single person I know, you are definitely NOT on the “Inconsiderate Chatter-er” List. At all. You are nothing if not extensively courteous. You know The Rules; hell, I think you helped write the book.

  6. Oh how I can relate!! My ex used to (and still does it whenever we do talk),in the middle of a conversation, just disappear, for hours! And then reappear sometimes the next day with some reply and I can’t figure out what the “H” he’ talking about. If you are on the phone you don’t just hang up in the middle of a conversation; you say you have to go. I think it is rude, all he has to do is say something has come up and he has to go.
    Sometimes he texts me and I reply then he responds, I reply and then nothing. I am sure he is doing it just to pull a power move of making me wait for him. I finally blocked him from texting me and told him to call me if he has something to say. When we were together he was always texting someone, I discovered he was screwing around on me and I guess it was easier to text and then he could do it with me right there and vise versa; he could be with them and respond to me without them knowing who he was talking to. Grrrrrrrr that’s why he’s my ex.

    • I have dealt with many a person cutting out of conversations online for whatever reason and unless they give a real explanation, they’re all rude. Sorry to hear that your ex was cheating/texting someone else, especially right in front of you. (I can relate, unfortunately.)

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