Monday, February 21, 2011

What Does "TL; DR" Mean?

Q: What does "tl; dr" mean?

A: The 'internet era' presents us with a number of exciting new trends and tendencies in communication. Among other things, it affords us the opportunity to communicate with people we would never be able to in what they call 'irl', in other words 'in real life'.Obviously, however, a new method of communication will bring with it a new style of communicating - or at least new rules and codes of conduct to control our own personal styles of communication. One of the most obvious ones - indeed a very 'signifier' of one's internet-savvy - is the ability to negotiate a rapidly-increasing ocean of acronyms and codes, short groups of letters or symbols with the twin effect of easing communication for those in the know and obfuscating communication for those on the outside. A simple example might be 'ROFL', by now a relatively common internet acronym, but still one that suits our purposes. For those in the loop, 'ROFL' serves a valuable purpose: it indicates that the person writing it finds something extremely funny. Even if its literal meaning, 'rolling on the floor laughing', is most assuredly an exaggeration, its actual intended meaning comes through loud and clear - as is of course true of any number of acronyms or the rows of punctuation symbols called 'emoticons', shorthands developed to overcome the barrier of a lack on non-verbal communication in an on-line environment. Without the benefit of tone of voice, gestures and facial expressions, it can be exceedingly difficult to ensure that not only your words but also the intent of your words is successfully conveyed; as a result online dialogues are fraught with misunderstandings, misunderstandings that simple acronyms such as these can help to avoid - provided, of course, you know what they mean. Someone who has not been told, however, the meaning of the acronym, might find it bewildering. Additionally, they might even be a little intimidated or insulted - being an outsider on the 'jargon' of a group has a powerful isolating effect. One can presume than an unknown acronym could perhaps be an inside joke levelled at the expense of the 'newbie'. In this case, the most innocent of messages can suddenly become an insult. While most interent acronyms are not meant in bad faith at all, there are a few that, if not an insult, can most assuredly be considered a slight, a snide comment on the recipient of the comment. An additional point to note about 'netiquette', that is to say the rules that guide beaviour on the internet, is that the very nature of 'surfing' has created, in effect, a greatly decreased attention span. What this means is that someone who uses the internet is in effect behaving as one would while 'channel surfing', cutting the medium off in mid-flow the instant his or her attention span sags a little. Much could be said about the repercussions of this need for instant gratification and how such a trend could possibly affect our dealings with people in all parts of our own day-to-day lives, how perhaps this newly-developed 'instinct' in internet users could conceivably down the line lead to people unable to, for example, follow a university lecture or even a simple conversation. However, in such a case as the one described above, a person seeking an on-line audience is well advised to bear in mind that his would-be 'viewer' is likely to disappear, never to return, if that criticlaly brief attention span is tested. The sites that get the most viewers are those that keep things short and to-the-point. They boil ideas, items of interest and news down to their most salient of points - often compiling them in lists of ten or more, or putting them in a graphical form, illustrated to keep the viewer interested. Unfortunately, the downside of this 'sound bite' approach to on-line correspondence is that it renders the more verbose writer effectively unable to communicate his ideas to the fullest extent - or at least unable to do so while maintaining an audience. A writer interested in maintaining an audience needs to find ways to cut out unnecessary information and unnecessary verbiage. Otherwise, the reader is likely to just click away and look for something shorter and to-the-point. Or, worse, before departing, the reader might stick in a little pointed comment, something along the lines of 'tl; dr', an acronym used just in such a situation. It means 'too long; didn't read'.

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