I was recently reminded of the nature of online contact, and the role of personal knowledge in an environment where tone cannot be directly ascertained. The relevant posts are in this thread, more specifically this little subthread.
For those who can't be bothered reading, I wrote something which was sarcastic and non-serious in nature. As is my wont, I didn't indicate this (something I learned early on in my posting history, back on Usenet). It was misinterpreted by the person to whom I'd replied (someone I didn't know), who was later appraised by other people who *did* know me about the nature of my posting. She apologised to me, I apologised to her. Hopefully the whole shemozzle has been worked out now.
However, what this did do for me was make me realise once again that my words are subject to misinterpretation. I've found lately that when I'm posting on various "hot button" issues, I'll tend to include my personal context, so people know where I'm coming from. This is particularly the case with regard to US politics, since as an Australian, I'm able to take a slightly more academic and detatched view of the issues than most people in the US. It's also the case with regard to certain "hot button" social issues in the US, such as abortion or religious faith, where there really *isn't* the same level of cultural focus on the issue itself here.
I can see I'm going to have to start broadening my markers for "context required".
Of course, this bumps into another problem of mine - I do tend to be rather self-absorbed most of the time, so a lot of what I write (even as comments in someone else's blog, or in an online community) will tend to be written from my own perspective, and from how something has affected me. This may be personally relevant, and it may well be the nearest I get to an expert opinion (after all, if I can't be the expert about me, what can I be an expert on?) but I do sometimes worry that it's a bit boring for everyone. I also worry that my self-focus is preventing me from seeing larger issues - I can see what affects me, but what about what affects someone else?
Something which requires contemplation, I believe.