Anna Nowak on Netiquette Today


My guest this week is Anna Nowak, who is launching a brand new project called Netiquette Today. With a deep love for Internet culture, she’s out to become the Dear Abby of the Snapchat era. What’s really cool is the expertise she brings about sociolinguistics and the way identity influences communication. She doesn’t believe there’s one right way to communicate, but that communication changes every day and we all need a little help catching up.

We nerded out about many shared passions, like why Tumblr is the best and why linguistic prescriptivism is the worst. Thanks for coming on Anna!

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1. How did your love of language make you interested in Internet culture and etiquette?

I think my love of language furthered my interest in Internet culture because, on Tumblr at least, you get to watch language evolve and see new slang be invented all the time. And that’s really beautiful to me. I don’t think that English is a better language than any other, but I certainly do appreciate how malleable and inventive it is. It makes expression feel boundless, which is a thrilling prospect.

From an etiquette perspective, I think my interest is in helping people find the right words to express their feelings for the situation they’re in. I know it can be really hard for some people to put their emotions or needs into words, and I have, on a number of occasions, helped friends write letters to people that they were in a tough spot with. As social platforms proliferate and become more complex, the number of interactions we can have, as well as the number of people we can have them with, is virtually limitless. And while these interactions may seem small, they can color and shape our world in ways that are profound and overwhelming at times. So if I can help people feel less overwhelmed and more confident in what their options are in these situations, that would be incredibly gratifying for me.

2. How do you think emojis and other ornaments of netspeak are changing language and writing as we know it?

I think that emojis, stickers, and gifs are certainly great for interpersonal communication. It can be pretty difficult to convey tone in text/IM anyway, and when you couple that with a culture of immediate gratification and how that extends to what people expect for response time, it’s nice to be able to show emotion quickly without losing sincerity.

I personally don’t want it to get to the point where emojis are used in place of words in everyday journalism. But I do appreciate projects like srsly Hamlet and other OMG Shakespeare-like projects where people really take that type of modern interpretation all the way.

3. What’s your writing background? What do you hope to use writing for in the future? How does your job utilize all your experience with net culture and communication?

I had a Blogspot I was pretty dedicated to in high school and early college, and I blogged for The Smitten Kitten when I worked there at the end of college. I presented a paper I wrote on John Waters’ Trash Trilogy at the Midwest Modern Language Association conference in 2008, and the moderator of the panel I was on asked me to contribute a chapter to this anthology on New Queer Cinema. My sister and I had a blog for a couple of years called The Queer and Now, but our site got hacked and then the server hosting our site crashed and we lost our work, which was a bummer. Between then and now, I haven’t put much personal writing out into the world except for this poem about visiting the Georgia O’Keefe museum in Santa Fe. I think spending the last couple years exclusively writing B2B marketing content is what’s pushed me to want to do this project and involve myself in something a little more fun and creative.

I hope to use writing as a way to get to know myself. That’s already happened a little in this project, which is exciting. And while they’re not necessarily mind-blowing revelations, I think having to take all the thoughts that swirl around in my head and put them clearly and concisely (hopefully) into words is a discovery process in itself.

My experience with Internet culture definitely comes in handy when it comes to the social media management aspect of my job. It’s actually hard for me not to constantly conceptualize social media posts. And writing lots of research papers in college has certainly made writing B2B white papers much easier.

Thanks for coming on Anna!

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