Even if it is in the same language, the way a person speaks can be foreign. Sometimes an accent can confuse understanding or a different vocabulary can cloud meaning. Sometimes punctuation (or lack thereof) can trip intentions. “Today is great!” is very different from “Today is great.” which is different from “Today, is great.” You can very easily make a common way of speaking confusing.
How you employ your letter case is another way to twist language. Speaking in lower case or Capitalized Case or aLtErNaTiNg cAsE adds another dimension to writing. Are you sad? Are you being overly formal? Are you a child attempting to stylize the way that you appear in writing? Is this a character? It can be all of those things and none of those things. Like a dialect, your casing may also be the result of other people or a region or a time influencing the speaker: it’s just a way of speaking.
For nearly ten years I spoke in ALL CAPS online. It was a way of thinking and, still, is how words appear in my head. It is often confused for being unnecessarily loud but is actually a more stream-of-conscious way of talking, the folding of my mind with the computer. “Why do you speak in all caps?” I’d get asked a lot from people squinting. “I’d follow you on Twitter but I feel like,” they would gulp. “You’re yelling at me.” People always liked to ask with narrow eyes of concern “Are you angry?” or the more condescending non-supportive support, “It’s okay if everyone doesn’t understand you.” Other people saw the CAPS, processed, and did not think anything of it. Those people are mostly under 37 at the moment. That number has fluctuated (and will go up) but, for a long time, no one over the age of 25 had any idea why someone would speak in ALL CAPS. Outside of Jenny Holzer, this language is confusing to most. Not even Kanye can get away with ALL CAPS.
My history with CAPS is more than just a style thing. I know exactly when the transition from normal case to ALL CAPS happened: it was in the late Summer of 2007. I was finishing an internship at MTV in New York City where I had met one of my best friends, Kristen. She and I shared and office and, in a very pre-Internet cultural moment, we bonded over lolcats and old episodes of GUTS that played on Viacom’s internal channels. We decorated our office with homemade lolcats using MTV’s Microsoft Paint applications, adopting the pre-meme tongue of ALL CAPS. It was good natured kid-adult college fun. The use of CAPS started on our Facebook walls and spread to other friends. I can pinpoint the switch from normal case to CAPS with wall posts and with the transition of my LastFM Shout Box. For a group of friends, speaking in normal case was reserved for faux-adult things like personal and work emails and messages to your parents: not for Internet. Not for social media. We were in our early twenties and CAPS was our techno-dork communication, so subtly different yet as common as the caps lock key.
The people who got CAPS got it immediately, getting the reference to meta-commentary and absurdist online humor. Those who didn’t get CAPS would ask why we were angry. We were frequently sicced by Caps Cop with requests to tone it down, to “speak normally.” Um. No. We created our own online subculture for big thoughts and outlandish irreverence: the only way to express this was in CAPS.
I took this very seriously: it was very much my identity. Through various career and life changes, I stuck with CAPS. I made and lost friends. I dumped and got dumped by various dudes. I even came out to my parents! I also got a dog and a car and went to therapy, all while SPEAKING MY MIND IN CAPS.
Years of emails were composed in CAPITALS. Text chains have never broken the CASE. The biggest marker of this was my Twitter, which lived and died by CAPS. For years my mini-bio read “I THINK IN ALL CAPS.” and started with the the proclamation that I WAS ON TWITTER. The caveat helped people understand me better, I thought, but there were a great deal of followers and friends who did not get it. Facebook exploded into something everyone’s parents and bosses were on and the addition of business relations meant that new, superior people were asking me what my relationship with ALL CAPS was. Online culture wasn’t isolated to the young anymore. Everyone was online. “I don’t get it,” they would ask. “You know you can stop that, right?” Yes, I knew. I didn’t want to. It was a part of my identity as a young, gay, twentysomething who was pursuing comedy and art in Hollywood, living to make people laugh and break a few brain cells at the hand of absurdism.
No one got that. Instead of it being an understandable aesthetic, it was thought to be angry and robotic. “Why are you yelling?” I heard for years. As you change online and off, you see that some parts about you are just old and dated and not matching with the you-you. I saw this last year, seeing that the window to be understood and accepted for an ALL CAPS person had gone the way of a few dreams: lost. No one got it. It was time to look for excuses to quit FULL TIME CAPS. I saw all my years of commitment to SPEAKING and, while proud, the years of lost opportunities I relinquished to MY WAY OF SPEAKING (WHICH NO ONE UNDERSTOOD) was more crushing. I understood the YELLING. How many writing jobs did I not get because an editor didn’t “get” my Twitter? How many friends did I push away because of a lack of punctuation? How many jokes and comments and serious statements evaporated into CAPS? How many followers did I never get because I had CAPS? Did my online CAPS pride smother my potential?
With this website launching and my thirties approaching and, still, no sign of being a respected CAPS LOCKSMITH like Jenny Holzer, I had a very #old realization: retire the CAPS and get serious. Keep it with your BFFs but take it out of the “real world,” online you. The time for people to get with your way of thinking has passed. You are not 20. You look sad and confusing now. You look like a failed artistic crazy instead of cool or creative. There is still time to salvage your creative self. My CAPS consciousness was too heavy to carry around anymore.
I teased the change for months with breaks from CAPS in online posts and considered making a “big” announcement. But I didn’t. I opted to just change it because who the fuck cares? No one. When you are a nobody, the only P.R. required of you is silence. The only explanation you need is the space between two sentences. No one cares. With a Tweet about art and a photo of my dog, the transition occurred. No one asked why. No one sent a message saying “Where is the caps?” or “You aren’t yelling anymore.” It all went away. My online window had been cleaned and people understood me. I guess. Or no one cared either way, outside of vain confusion over miscommunication.
It was a sad realization that the only thing people cared about with CAPS is that they couldn’t understandit. Even though we were speaking the same language, my way of framing the language was so “not normal” that it stymied so many connections. That’s the microscopic excuse I like to toss at reasons why I didn’t get this opportunity or that, at least. Maybe it wasn’t a lack of talent but the CAPS? That’s an optimistic, youthful look at it. CAPS can be a wall and I put up miles of online walls. Can they ever come down? Probably not.