06/26/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

"Thank You" Redefined... Online

It occured to me one day while browsing through my Facebook page, that communication in the age of social networking has taken on a new facet - the redefinition of the "thank you".

When we consider all of what "thank you" means to a person, we find that in its simplest form, it is a form of translated appreciation; a statement of understanding that relays a thought of gratitude from one individual to another. It is a handshake, a pat on the back, a hug, or a thumbs up. It can be a gift, and reward, or a repayment. It can convey appreciation, understanding, and satisfaction.

Yet with all that the expression of emotion that "thank you" brings, its hard to imagine where its definitions lie in a virtual world. What happens when you can't shake someones hand, when you can't pat someone on the back, when you can't "feel" appreciation in a physical sense?

Various websites and social networking sites like Facebook attempt to provide the "virtual thank you" in the form of online gifts, online messages, symbols such as "thumbs up" and "waving hand" gestures, "pokes", and virtual "greeting cards" to name a few. The defining factor in all of this is that the medium to which these virtual thanks come from is just that - they are virtual. Like typrewritten characters on the page of a book, they are merely cyber-representations of a notion - a form of modern "smoke signal" to let someone know that they are appreciated. Sure, it is mutually understood by both the "appreciator" and the "appeciatee" that the medium only exists on a webpage, but like two kids pretending to play "tea party" it starts to become somewhat redundant in its action.

The online "e-card" is probably the closest for of an actual "thank you" while still being virtual, yet in my mind, how close does a real greeting card even get to being sincere? There's a sense of insincerety that comes with a greeting card, which harkens back to my old Christmas Day experiences when my aunt would give me a empty "Merry Christmas" card, as if it were a suitable replacement for a Hot Wheel or a Robby The Robot. . In my opinion, the greeting card thank you is no more sincere a thank you written on the back of a used napkin. Sure the "giver" meant well, but the actual message ends up landing far short of its mark, especially to a 7 year old boy on Christmas Day.

So is there a suitable "thank you" that translates well online while still being sincere? I have a hard time believing that there is. Part of what makes "thank you" meaningful to me, is the physical nature of the message. I think the online "thank you", and in fact online communication and social networking in general, require a lot of assumption of trust and sincerety. So when someone says "thank you" online, it seems like even more of a stretch.

Maybe I'm being synical, but it feels like the online "thank you" is a lot like kids playing tea party. As long as we both believe it, it becomes real.

Perhaps if we both think hard enough, we can imagine shaking each other's hand or patting each other on the back...