The Web Hostess: Online manners, memes and must-see video

May 09, 2012

A weekly chat about the best ways to kill time online. Our Web Hostess, Monica Hesse, sifts the Internet so you don't have to, searching for meaning, manners and the next great meme.

Afternoon, everyone, and welcome to the chat.

I'm going to post a question a bit early because I think it could prompt some wider discussion. We'll start at 2 as usual -- but in the meantime, warm up your brains and send your thoughts for this chatter:

My boss, in an effort to sound like he "gets it," I think, sends emails using text speak. You're becomes "ur," and he's LOLing all over the place. As you might expect, this only makes him sound like he does not "get it" at all. I think he's embarrassing himself and the business -- but since it's a small operation and he's the owner, there's no one I can talk to but him. Should I?

So much is wrapped up in this, right? On the one hand, this isn't about the Internet at all, because the boss could also be the guy who goes to parties and says things like "These crudites are totally dope." (Not that there would be anything wrong with that sentence). So the larger question, in one sense, is "Should you correct your boss, ever?"

But the Internet does add a layer of complexity to this discussion, because presumably these emails are going out to clients, in an official capacity, where they are serving as official records for your company, and where they could be forwarded for the world to see. Arguably, this raises the stakes.

So let's see what other chatters have to say. How would you handle this situation?


I wouldn't mention anything to him, but in response to his email's I would use formal language. Maybe he'll get the hint? Plus I am non-confrontational and wouldn't want to embarrass the boss-man.

True, learning by example could work. Especially if the OP is younger, and the boss's desire is to appear with it, then he might intuitively follow the example of his young employees.

Hi Monica. I "watch" Hulu all day while at work. My office space is sooo quiet (too many introverts) and I let it quietly run in the background. (It's loud enough for me to hear but no one else really.) I promise that I don't sit for eight hours watching it; I really am working. But I need the noise and headphones drive me crazy. When my boss walks by, however, I feel guilty and automatically turn down the sound just to make sure he can't hear it. But the show keeps running and if he's in my cube for a long time, I've missed some of my shows! Is there a shortcut key I can use to pause it, without having to bring up the screen? Any other solutions to hiding my at-work Hulu habit? Thanks!

I do not think so. But do you need to? If I understand correctly, you're using Hulu like other people might use the radio -- as background noise so you don't drown in the silence of your cubicle. If that's the case, maybe you can phrase it that way -- "Hello, Boss. Is my background noise bothering you while we have this conversation?" -- and then feel free to quickly pause the show. Trying to do it surreptitiously only makes it look like you have something to hide -- like you really are watching television all day -- when in fact, you don't.

Question for the chatters: Is there a reason to feel more guilty about this than about listening to the radio? Does the visual component of Hulu imply that you must be watching it, and therefore not doing your work? How would the bosses in this chat feel about an underling with Hulu running all day?

Yes, I think she should talk to her boss, and gently explain that sending business emails written in text-speak is a very bad idea. She could take the route that clients will think he's uneducated, a teenager, a flake, or just plain too lazy to type "your". Or, say that while text-speak is trendy, it's only trendy in a text message. (Why I assumed she's a she, I'm not sure. I think it's because I can picture a male employee saying "Dude, stop writing like my 15 year old cousin" and thinking nothing of it, while I can't imagine myself doing it)

And a joking approach might be the one to take, actually. I'm not sure about your first suggestion. In the wrong office environment, telling your boss that he's coming across as flakey or uneducated seems like it could end disastrously. Or at least, you know, awkwardly.

If you haven't already seen this, you must.

I saw it this morning. I'm torn between "hottie Joseph Stalin" and "pool shark Martin Luther King Jr." as the most fascinating images. (Now you all must go look).

Sorry, but if your boss's presence in your cube means you've "missed some of my shows," then you ARE watching television all day. You feel guilty for a reason. Video + sound is twice as distracting as just sound. Switch to Pandora and get to work.

I took "missed some of my shows" as a joke. But if it were serious, then...yeah. The point of background noise is that you should be able to dip in and out of it, and not really care what you missed. If you're concentrating too hard on the plot, then background has become "foreground." If you don't want to switch to Pandora (I can't stand music in the background when I'm trying to work, but am fine with NPR), then maybe you need to switch to more boring shows.

My wife is reading A Game of Thrones (on my suggestion, even though epic fantasy isn't her thing, because she agreed to watch the HBO series with me on DVD -- she's great that way). We were talking about it the other night and she admitted to skipping to the end of the book to, "see where this is all going." She then went back to her place in the middle to read the rest of the book. Apparently, she almost always skims a book the first time through and then re-reads it multiple times. She says that she wants to get the plot out of the way so that she can then find the beauty or symbolism in the prose. I always knew she re-read books a lot, but I thought it was more a comfort-of-the-familiar thing than an outlook on the reading experience.


This blew my mind. I can only read a book once. There are a few exceptions that I'll revisit once a decade or so, but they are very rare. Once I know the plot, I'm kind of ruined on a book. I figure that if there is some really good writing going on, I'll pick up on it as I read it. I'm willing to re-read passages and chapters to try to get what an author is doing if it is unusual or interesting (I felt like I read Catch-22 three times to get through it once), but I think the quality of writing justifying that amount of work on the reader's part is pretty rare.


So, this has been on my mind for the last few days, and this you and this group seem decently well-read -- how do you approach reading? Am I missing out?

Reading a book once? How ridiculous. Once you've made a good friend, do you say, "Well, now that I know you, I never have to see you again?" Absurd.

Sometimes I do what your wife does -- skip ahead to see where things are going. Usually it's because I realize that, in my desperation to know what happens, I've begun skimming pages just to fly through to the end. Knowing what awaits me at the end helps me slow down and enjoy the ride.


I'm most likely in the minority, but I hate seeing text abbreviations like "ur" and LOLs in any communication. Including, you know, texts. I just hate them. Yeesh. Perhaps the OP could say something along the lines of "I think some of our clients might not understand these text abbreviations -- maybe we should spell everything out, just to be clear."

Actually, this is fairly genius, because it allows the boss to continue to feel that he is the "cool" one -- it's just that other people are not as cool as he is, and are too behind the times to understand his hip and awesome language.

And I'm not sure that you're in the minority. I spell out all of my texts like an 85-year-old.

I am exactly the same way! To me the visual/auditory "noise" of a program running is soothing while I'm working. Fortunately I work from home (I'm a writer) and so I can watch Hulu naked while drinking OJ straight from the carton if I want to, and nobody can stop me. If I was the boss, I'd be totally understanding, as long as the employee was being productive and not disturbing anyone else.

It's really interesting to see how different people's own work habits impact their understanding of other people's work habits, no?

From time to time I receive emails purporting to be from people I know, but the messages are something so vague or generic -- e.g., Subject line = "HEY!" or a message exhorting me to click on a supposedly interesting link -- that I can tell that the person's email address book has been hijacked by some sort of spam or worm or something malicious. My question is this: Should I always notify every supposed sender that I suspect his/her email account has been hijacked, should I only notify people to whom I'm close -- or is it more polite not to mention it at all?

I notify everyone. It's the equivalent of seeing someone on the bus about to be pickpocketed by the shady guy next to them. You wouldn't think, "Oh, I don't know you very well." You would say, "STOP, THIEF."

Send a brief note, saying something like, "I just wanted you to know that your account has been hijacked -- unless you really are stranded in jail in London and need $10,000 to bail you out. Presuming that hasn't happened, let's get together for coffee soon."

I know these are very popular (Penguin Cam, the late-but-great Butterstick/Panda Cam, etc.), but I'd like to give a plug to my current favorite one: Falcon Cam. The CBS affiliate in Springfield, MA has 24 hour coverage of a peregrine falcon nest built on the side of the building. All 4 of the eggs have hatched, and so now it's just a struggle to see if the parents can keep catching enough food to feed them. In a few weeks, they will be learning to fly. It's seriously my favorite thing on the internet! For fans of: birds of prey, animal cams, life and death nature struggles, and ripping apart carcasses of small prey.

Thank you. Good work.

I think the OP should go to their boss and kiddingly say something like "You must be texting with your teenagers too much lately; there was a lot of text speak in that last email." Or " what does 'xxxx' (insert favorite text speak word) mean; I've never even seen that one before." Then follow it up with a heartfelt "but seriously; I can ignore it, but text chatter is a pet peeve of mine..." I don't have anyone in my office that does that thankfully. I don't even like it that much in the context of casual IM's between me and my friends... we're grown-ups and can actually take the 1.2 seconds to finish spelling out a word; even in actual texts. Though I can stand an occasional LOL as a synonym to 'haha' to let someone know you thought they said something funny (I almost never actually LOL though). If he's writing a joke, then acknowledging it with his own "LOL" then he should be kicked in the nuts.

I like the first half of this -- "What does XXXX mean?" is an innocent, gentle way to point this out. But following up with another email seems like overkill, or overly preachy.

If you are running Hulu just for background noise, one, you shouldn't care if you're missing parts of shows and two, why can't you leave it minimized? So for all your boss knows, you are listening to talk radio. Now I'm waiting for a letter from someone complaining that their cubicle neighbor watches TV all day long at work and the sound of it is SO distracting to everyone else. I find it hard to believe that no one else can hear it, if it's loud enough for her to follow the shows.

Next chat, I'm sure. Or from someone who says, "My cubicle mate watches Glee all day long, but it's so soft I can barely follow the episodes. What can I do to get him to turn it up?"

There's a great book called "Send" by David Shipley and Will Schwalbe that talks about business email. Give a copy to your boss -- say you were reading it and it has some interesting information on legal issues surrounding business email and appropriate policies. That makes it sound like you care about the company not getting sued, and hopefully your boss will read about professional email language at the same time.

Thanks for the recommendation -- I hadn't heard of, but will check it out.

Oh yeah, that's me! Or more like an 85-year-old with an English degree. My 13-year-old daughter actually approves of this, because she thinks it's really embarrassing when an adult uses those hip and awesome abbreviations.

Yes. Oddly, sometimes the easiest way to be cool is to embrace the fact that you will never be.

It's funny that this question came up. I don't skip ahead a lot, but right now I'm thinking about it in the book I'm currently reading. I'm enjoying the book ok, I guess, but keep being like, "Is this GOING somewhere?" The problem is that I'm reading it on my Nook, which makes it a lot harder to skip around to get a feel for the book.

The e-reader adds an interesting component to reading, doesn't it? It's much harder for reading to be a tactile experience -- thumbs between pages, flipping back and forth, etc.

Holy crap! I flip out if I accidentally see the last page of a book when I'm reading it, as it totally ruins the experience. I would never, ever skim and then reread. I will admit to skimming when I think the story is slow or dumb, but to skim and then read-- that's just too much!

Holy skimming, Batman?

I actually saw a study once that determined that people who know what happens at the end of a story enjoy the book MORE than those who don't. Apparently it's for the same exact reasons his wife gave him: they are able to concentrate more on the rest of the writing, instead of racing through to see what happens.

Fascinating, thanks.

Similarly, I once wrote a piece about a study showing that we enjoy television shows more with commercials, because they give us natural pauses, and time to regroup and look forward to what comes next.

I've actually written this email once, and received a reply from the hacker saying "It really is me, and I could use the money!" The email was filled with weird typos and odd references, so apparently it was the hacker responding. But now that I think about it, I haven't heard from that friend again... hmm...

Either your friend is in jail, or your friend became a hacker in London.

I had a friend who couldn't write a coherent email at all. Last year, he went to visit his cousin in Wales. Then we all got that email from London saying that he'd been mugged, etc. EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US thought it was actually from him, as he honestly wrote just as poorly as those spammers. Let's tie that in with the boss. You have to write professionally and clearly so when people receive your emails they can tell if you really are pence-less in London or if your account has been hijacked.

Also, a safe word should be employed. "If I really have been imprisoned in London, I will reference Game of Thrones so you know it's me."

But if their account was hijacked will they get the message? I always presume that they no longer have access to their email and one of their friends who knows their phone number will call them.

Don't reply directly to the hacked message -- but you could reach out to them through another means, like through Facebook or an alternative email address.

Why does it matter to you, single-time reader, how your wife reads?

I got the impression he was merely baffled, which I can understand. After all, there are so many good books out there that it is somewhat odd that some of us would just choose to just read the same ones over and over again.

Here's a link to an article about the study:

Thank you.

Some books seem to offer something new no matter how many times I read them. I have a handful I read probably once a year: Black Beauty, The Secret Garden, Anne of Green Gables, The Call of the Wild, and a book of fairy tales I've had since I was a kid. I reread a lot of Agatha Christie books too because I always forget whodunnit. :)

Reader of my own heart. Has everyone been looking at this without me??

We have. But we're excited to have you at the party now, even belatedly.

Me too. But on the other hand, I do occaisonally re-read books. I'm reading Game of Thrones again right now, because I just finished watching the first series on DVD and wanted to compare how well the show captures the book. Plus, I read the books a long time ago and have forgotten so much I don't think I can read the most recent one until I refresh my memory. Or, I could just read all the Wikipedia entries I guess.


Like the OP's wife, I almost always flip to the end to find out what happens, and then go back and read the whole thing. And for the exact reason she gave - it allows me to NOT tear through the pages just to 'see what happens', but rather savor the imagery and writing at a more leisurely. Maybe it's a chick thing? Or maybe it's becasue my undergrad degree is in British and American literature, and really - reading - the words is sorta the point.

I haven't been paying attention to the gender breakdowns of people writing in -- but if there are re-reading males out there in chatland today, now would be an excellent time to ring in.

Maurice Sendak get as much attention as he has been, if he hadn't been interviewed by Colbert recently?

Absolutely. Where the Wild Things Are was a seminal book that turned children's literature on its head. People have been saying that for decades, long before Colbert.

Bleh, not me. I hate commercials. My husband and I watch DVDs with the remote between us. When one of us wants to comment we pause and discuss for a moment, then restart.

Yes, but your pausing and commenting is having the same effect that the commercials had -- a chance to pause and anticipate. It's just that now, with TiVo, you don't have to wait for the commercials to run their course; you can create your own breaks.

Oh man, you gotta re-read. Losing yourself in a familiar novel is like grilled cheese on a cold day. You find details you missed the first time, approach the characters in a different way, and really, the best novels grow with you. Reading Huck Finn as a child with my dad completely different from reading it as a teenager, and then in college.

I'm just going to post a few of these that share similar sentiments, but that I don't have anything to add.

I find this discussion fascinating! I personally am very rarely spoiled by reading the end of the book, as I can usually have a fairly good idea of what's going to happen after a few chapters. But sometimes I do it anyway, just so that I don't have the "But what will happen?" hanging over my head so I can go to bed before midnight! On the rereading aspect, I happen to have both a natural speed-reading ability (Harry Potter book 8 in 3 hours, as an example), combined with nearly photographic memory. I wish I could garner as much pleasure out of rereading books as I do the first time, but it takes a true classic or a truly masterful writing style to accomplish that for me.

Twice I have finished the last page of a book, then turned it back and started re-reading from page one because I enjoyed it so much. It's a great feeling.

One of the most delightful experiences of being a parent is reading books you loved--and still do love--to or with your child. Even if you know what's going to happen. (I read the _Little House_ books with my daughter, and even as a teenager had not picked up on how desperate the situation in _The Long Winter_ was. Even though I knew that everything would be fine at the end.)

I can't imagine going to the last chapter and seeing something like "Odd that your father was really alive all this time, and it was actually your uncle Nick who impersonating him..." or something like that. It would ruin the whole story!

But why can't you really read the words without knowing the ending? I don't get that. Any suspense is totally lost, which is also part of the point. BTW, I'm female and totally against reading the ending first.

Because we are IMPATIENT.

Actually, I received such a message one cold wintry Friday. Since I didn't have much to do that weekend, on a lark I replied to the sender; it turned out my reply went to the scammer, not to my friend. So, I decided to amuse myself by wasting the scammer's time all weekend leading him on. By Monday morning EST, when his messages were starting to sound annoyed with me for foot-dragging, I wrote that I couldn't send him the money because I'd lost it all gambling -- and since he would surely be getting his money soon from someone else, could he PLEASE WIRE ME THE AMOUNT in order to cover my gambling losses?!?!? Needless to say the scammer was royally ticked off; he sent me a scathing email, then stopped emailing me. Since time is money -- and judging by his poor English (he was apparently Eastern European), he must have spent a lot more time writing to me than I did to him -- I felt justified in that I'd kept him from scamming others who might be gullible, and that I had in fact scammed him of a good deal of his time in return for no financial gain.

Excellent work. Also, may I recommend the book "Yes Man," which recouns a similar story and should not be confused with the Jim Carey movie of the same name (supposedly based on book, but an abomination.)

Yesterday I found a link to a Tumblr that I found amusing and so last night, I wanted to add it to my feed (I haven't signed into Tumblr on my work computer). And I couldn't find it. And I had zero recollection of where the link came from.

I have been there. I, in fact, recently lost a half an hour trying to recreate the Web journey that led me to the thing to begin with. (It was a chart of a Boston Terrier depicting various dog behaviors and what they mean. I promise it was a lot cooler than I am describing it here.)

I don't skip ahead when reading a book. But when I'm watching a TV series on Netflix, I go to Wikipedia and read the plot. That lets me know whether i should continue to spend my time watching the plots and characters unfold.


Is anyone getting these emails from orderupdate@amazon stating that an order (which you know nothing about and did not place) has been canceled. There's always a live link to click on, which I ignore because it seems like an invitation to a virus. I get a couple of these a day. Anyone else?

I have gotten them. And not clicked on them, either.

Steve McQueen, Faye Dunaway and Paul Newman doesn't count because they were on the set of "The Towering Inferno" working.

This is true. It needs to be "awesome people who you did not know were friends are hanging out in a friendly situation."

I want to know which books people finished, and then immediately began reading again!

Many people want to know this. Is the poster still here?

Ever see boss in a non-work setting? Maybe that would be the place to have a gentle word?

Hmm. All of this talk about "gentle words" makes me nervous. It doesn't seem like the way to go in this situation. If the boss is trying to be cool, then treat him like a cool person, and address this in light or flattering way. Anything that smacks of "You look like a sad old man trying too hard" will only make him defensive.

1. There are some books I read annually, just to keep them fresh. "To Kill a Mickingbird" comes to mind... 2. When I read a book, I read the last page first. I do that because i get a kick out of reading it before I read the book (when it makes no sense) and then as I complte the book (when it absolutely makes sense).

I love this reason for rereading -- seeing something completely out of context, and then completely in.

I read ahead to the end of this chat. Didn't like what I saw so now I know I don't want to participate. Good bye! Only joking. Monica, you are to my boredom as a dock leaf is to a nettle sting.

How does next week look for us? Are we going to be funny then?

If I like a book, I'll re-read it. If a book is particularly complicated, I'll re-read it. If I'm bored, I'll re-read a book. If I haven't read a book in awhile, I'll dig it out and re-read it. Drives my husband crazy, but then again he won't watch the same movie twice even if it's a favorite of his!

Also, I think that all of us should re-read these chat transcripts. When we're feeling bored, complicated, or just haven't been to a chat in awhile. That's what I think.

Monica, you are adopting a very Washingtonian stance. In the real world, people tell people when they're being stupid.

I think we're arguing the same thing. "Boss, you've been texting too much with your 13 year old" seems more preferable than, "Boss, we need to have a gentle word wherein I, your employee, proceed to lecture you, my superior, about how much more I know about business correspondence than you do."


I mean, really.

I don't travel often, but a month ago I did take a business trip via a particular airline; I have made no future travel plans. Still, since then I've been receiving spams urging me to check in online for my flight by clicking "here." Surely another bogus email genre?

Dangit, the secret's out. We all booked you a trip to London for your birthday. Watch out for muggers.

This whole discussion makes me so thankful to have a boss who lets me answer his professionally-worded questions with relevant LOLcats.

Sometimes only an LOLcat will do.

If the hyperlink in the email text is a word or words, rather than a URL, definitely do NOT click on it if you have the least little hunch it might be spam or phishing. Heck, I sometimes wonder if URLs are suspect, so copy/paste them in my browser window instead of lazily clicking. Even so, I still worry that the URL itself is inherently tainted.

Which is why I don't even copy and paste into a browser, usually, but go to the Amazon (or wherever) homepage and make myself click through until I get to the appropriate page.

but the only book I can say I finished, and then immediately started again was Life of Pi. Sublimely gorgeous book , with quite a nice twist at the end.

Whereas I had to skim through the first third of Life of Pi, because of the whole "sad, dying animals" description. I'm sure I missed beautiful writing.

I read page 31 first, then if I liked it I read the book. A failed writer I knew said that he thought book editors got tired of editing by page 30 so any subsequent pages were the author's true style, not the corrected version. It seems to work.


I promise no one else can hear it. The noise from the HVAC systems is almost deafening, so even if I'm 3 feet away from the computer, I can no longer hear the computer. But you're right: I'm not really paying attention so I should just not worry about a little background noise. But you're also right that I do feel more guilty about Hulu than pandora, even if I'm getting the same thing out of them.

Thanks for following up. I do trust that no one else can hear your computer. And I do not judge how much you are paying attention to the show. As I am here to help you waste time.

Go up to him and say, "Stop being such a jerk."


When I finished _Rebecca_, I went back and read the beginning again, since the first chapter is kind of reflecting and made better sense after you understood the plot. I can't remember if I read again the whole way through. I think there are books where the plot itself is the point, and those don't stand up well against rereading. But sometimes the plot is more like something interesting for the characters to do or a way for the author to keep your attention on brilliant writing, and, really, how the book ends doesn't matter all that much.

So true. There are some authors who you would happily read a detailed description of grass growing.

I watched the movie Atonement, which was great. Then I read the book, which, in addition to fleshing out parts of the story as any book adapted for the screen would do, was the most beautifully written novel I have ever read. Since I knew what was going to happen, I could savor every single blessed word.


I only purchase books if I like them enough to re-read. Otherwise it's all library all the time!

Posting! (and libraries love you!)

In Australia they would say, "Mate, you're acting like a twit!" And the boss would say, "Aw, sorry mate, you're right."

This is reminding me of a Fosters: Australian For Beer commercial.



Memento by starting at the end, and hitting reverse. Made much more sense that way.

All right. Enough. We must stop this nonsense.

I'm signing off now, but I'll see you next week. Same time and place.

In This Chat
Monica Hesse
Monica Hesse is a staff writer for the Post Style section. She frequently writes about culture, the Web and the intersection of the two.

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