One of the things the most important things to me during the beginning of the quarantine when I couldn’t see my friends was the internet– being able to talk to my friends despite being another country as them. I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking this, since most people nowadays communicate with their loved ones through the internet. Even so much as a text from a friend for me is enough to make my day.
But like all good things, there are some limitations to such a quick and easy way to talk to each other despite the distance. In the case of texting for me, it’s the inability to detect whether someone is being serious or not. Of course, it’s harder for some of us than others, and how much you know the person plays a big role in interpreting texts. Being deeply social creatures, humans rely on different factors to interpret messages than just simply words. Facial expression, tone, volume, and body language are all things that we look at (even subconsciously) when interpreting someone’s message.
The issue behind texting is that you’re stripping some of the main factors that are essential to human communication and relying entirely on the words they use. It’s why sometimes sarcasm is so hard to detect over text, and can lead to some very awkward circumstances. Of course, there are ways of conveying sarcasm over text when context clues aren’t enough, maybe using some strategically placed italics or other small hints (sites like Reddit tend to use /s at the end of a paragraph when specifying that a message is ironic).
Beyond sarcasm though, some messages can also seem outright aggressive or even apathetic, depending on someone’s texting styles. More than once have I gotten a simple ‘ok’ in response and wondered for hours if the person I was texting was genuinely angry at me or was just not a big texter. The sad thing is, if I could see or maybe hear the person, I’m sure I wouldn’t have this issue as much. Other times I would texts thinking “Gee, I sure hope that was sarcastic otherwise this person is really sexist and not funny at all.”
With texting being so informal but becoming more and more popular, new unwritten rules have taken a hold of the texting world. For example, using a full stop at the end of a sentence may be proper grammar in any other context, but at the end of a text message, it comes off as hostile and dismissive. Is that a bit stupid? Arguably, yes, but at the same time it makes sense to create new rules in order to accommodate this short-form, informal type of speech. Similarly, I’ve noticed sending separate texts as a way to separate their ideas, as an author would do with a full stop or a paragraph break.
So, what’s going to happen now? Are we going to make up new grammatical rules specifically for texting? Well, yes and no. Texting practices vary from culture to language to age demographic, so I don’t see anyone seriously writing up rules on how to appropriately convey different emotions through WhatsApp. As I mentioned above, different generations already have some ‘texting 101 rules’ that are just learnt from interacting with people of their demograhic. Hopefully these unspoken rules are what will offer us some context when human contact is lacking.
This post was previously published on digmedia.lucdh.nl under a Creative Commons License.
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