I’m at a two-day Slate retreat at the Mohonk Mountain House playing team-building “trust games” with Mickey Kaus, Julia Turner, Nathan Heller, and a handgun. I’m kidding about the trust games, but I’m serious about being stuck in the soul-bleaching bath that is a retreat. To beat the boredom, I’ve been hopscotching the Internet, where I found this fine essay by Caleb Crain that explains the difference between Web writing and regular writing. Thanks to Crain, I’ll never read the Web the same again.
A text on the internet rarely takes for granted your decision to read it or to continue reading it. There is often, instead, a jazzy, hectoring tone. At home my boyfriend and I use a certain physical gesture as shorthand to describe it. To make it, extend your index fingers and your thumbs so that your hands resemble toy pistols. Then waggle them before you, like a dude in a cheesy Western, while you wink, dip your knees, and lopsidedly drawl, “Heyyy.” The internet is always saying, “Heyyy.” It is always welcoming you to the party; it is always patting you on the back to congratulate you for showing up. It says, You know me, in a collusive tone of voice, and Wanna hear something funny? and Didja see who else is here? This tone is not absent from print; in fact, no page of New York magazine is without it. Certain decorative effects in language may be compatible with it, but it seems to be toxic to imagination.
Heyyy, congratulate yourself for showing up by sending e-mail to email@example.com. (E-mail may be quoted by name in “The Fray,” Slate’s readers’ forum, in a future article, or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)