The Changing Nature of Our Communication

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In text messaging, it takes more exchanges than it does in-person to fully convey and grasp intended meaning.

I am not a fan of Facebook. Even stranger, I sometimes really dislike text messaging. The trouble is, our current society doesn’t accept unplanned phone calls. We have to ask permission via text message before calling someone, lest they be unprepared to speak to us! This is a change in telephone communication that, in my experience, is new to the past decade or so.

As any wannabe-expert would tell you, though, there is a huge limitation native to text-only communication. As much as we may hate them, acronyms like LOL and emoticons like 😛 have come into use for a very practical reason, though we don’t always see how practical they are. For instance, a Japanese friend recently asked me why an American acquaintance of hers hated “lol” so much. I explained that many of us, when we see acronyms and emoticons used too heavily, tend to assume the user of these expressions is simple-minded and unable to express themselves in words. But I am deciding to believe the opposite: such users are merely taking advantage of a practical tool that shows an approximation of their tone and facial expression, which are absolutely essential in building human relationships.

The reason I dislike text messaging in particular (Facebook is another story entirely) is because it is so limited, in terms of the number of allowed characters, that some people try to save characters efficiently by communicating only using words. This leaves no room for the practical tools of text-tone (acronyms) and text-facial-expression (emoticons). In this vein, a miscommunication once occurred with one of my friends, who is absolutely lovely in person, but who does not add social touches to her messages to indicate jokes and sarcasm. We are certainly friends, but I don’t know her well enough to read her mind when she texts me! So, when I once text-asked her if she wanted to come hang out with me and another friend, I also asked if she did or didn’t like him, because I didn’t want her to come to a hangout where she’d be uncomfortable. She replied, “Oh, that guy, I hate him!” No emoticons, no “jk,” no “haha.”

I was left in a state of uncertainty because her vocal cues and facial expressions were absent, and she didn’t clue me in by using the common text-symbols of those vocal cues or facial expressions. So, I had to make sure, saying, “uh oh lol, i can’t tell if you’re joking” And she replied, “hahaha yes.” I though, “Yes”? “Yes” what? More confusion — I had to ask very explicitly, Are you saying “yes, I hate him,” or “yes, I’m joking and I don’t hate him”? In the end, she didn’t hate him… phew!

This kind of communication breakdown has the dangerous potential to really damage our relationships. I think that the more resistant we are to recognizing communication tools, as silly as they may seem when they look like :), the more we are damaging our connections to each other as a species.

A simple way to get around this complicated issue is to spend more face time with people. Get to know them in real life if you have that option, so that your bond is strong enough to withstand the annoyances of modern communication imperfections! 😉 Globalization-created distance and modern relationships is a bit of a rebuttal to this idea, but that’s another story for another day!

And to my friend from the example text-breakdown: you are wonderful and I wouldn’t have you any other way!!! So glad we are above small misunderstandings like that.

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