So Emotional: Gen Z and Visual Social Media

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In this episode of the Australian podcast, Future Tense, host Antony Funnell talks to digital researchers and linguists about the ways that people are using GIFs, emoji, selfies and other visual communication tools as narratives to express their ideas, emotions or as visual expressions and celebrations of shared cultural moments.

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How It Became Normal to Ignore Texts and Emails

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While you may know, rationally, that there are plenty of good reasons for someone not to respond to a text or an email—they’re busy, they haven’t seen the message yet, they’re thinking about what they want to say—it doesn’t always feel that way in a society where everyone seems to be on their smartphone all the time. A Pew survey found that 90 percent of cellphone owners “frequently” carry their phone with them, and 76 percent say they turn their phone off “rarely” or “never.” In one small 2015 study, young adults checked their phones an average of 85 times a day. Combine that with the increasing social acceptability of using your smartphone when you’re with other people, and it’s reasonable to expect that it probably doesn’t take that long for a recipient to see any given message.

As Deborah Tannen, a linguist at Georgetown University, wrote in The Atlantic, the signals that are sent by how people communicate online—the “metamessages” that accompany the literal messages—can easily be misinterpreted…

Features intended to add clarity—like read receipts or the little bubble with the ellipses in iMessage that tells you when someone is typing (which is apparently called the “typing awareness indicator”)—often just cause more anxiety, by offering definitive evidence for when someone is ignoring you or started to reply only to put it off longer.

The End of Typing: The Next Billion Mobile Users Will Rely on Video and Voice

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The internet’s global expansion is entering a new phase, and it looks decidedly unlike the last one. Instead of typing searches and emails, a wave of newcomers – “the next billion,” the tech industry called them – is avoiding text, using voice activation and communicating with images. They are a swath of the world’s less-educated online for the first time thanks to low-end smartphones, cheap data plans…

 

Why You Need Emoji

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The rich, communicative context available in face-to-face encounters is largely absent from digital communication. Digital text alone is impoverished and, on occasion, emotionally arid. Textspeak, seemingly, possesses the power to strip all forms of nuanced expression from even the best of us. But here emoji can help: It fulfills a similar function in digital communication to gesture, body language, and intonation in spoken interaction. Emoji, in text messaging and other forms of digital communication, enables us to better express tone and provide emotional cues; and this enables us to better manage the ongoing flow of information, and to interpret what the words are meant to convey.

In fact, the idea that digital text, used alone, sucks away the nuancing has even been given its own name: Poe’s law. Based on comments made originally by Nathan Poe on how to parody fundamentalist views, Poe’s law is now an Internet adage, widely cited on web forums and chat rooms; it even has its own Wikipedia page. According to the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph, Poe’s law states the following: “Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humour, it is impossible to create a parody of fundamentalism that someone won’t mistake for the real thing.” In short, when poking fun in digital communication, emojis are best used for avoidance of doubt.

Laugh and the World Laughs With You. Type ‘Ha,’ Not So Much.

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It was early in our courtship that I realized the guy I was dating, with whom I now cohabit, wasn’t laughing at my jokes. Well actually, he may have been laughing at my jokes, and in fact I thought he was laughing at my jokes, because he consistently responded with boisterous HAHAHAs to my humorous text messages.

It was flattering. Except when I made a joke that clearly wasn’t that funny — perhaps only worthy of a single ha — and suddenly it dawned on me that his typical HAHAHA reply (that’s three HAs, no spaces, all caps) was formulaic. Which could mean only one thing: This was not indicative of an actual measurement of laughter, but merely of the autocorrect function on his phone that had memorized a HA sequence. I was the idiot thinking I was hilarious and he was just sooo into me.

Take hahaha, which we’ll call basic laughter. It’s actually anything but basic, with the ability to shorten (haha), lengthen (hahahahahaha), capitalize (HAHAHA), punctuate (Ha!), elongate (Haaaaaaaaa), or replace with an “e” (hehe) — though, realtalk, The New Yorker may have called hehehe a “younger person’s e-laugh,” but ask any actual young person today and his or her response is likely to be “ew.” (Heh, however, is acceptable.)

Then of course there is LOL, for “laugh out loud,” which actually means the opposite, because nobody using LOL has actually laughed out loud since at least 2015. “It’s like saying ‘k,’” said Sharon Attia, a 22-year-old college senior, noting that a single ha is also pretty much the equivalent to giving someone your best resting bitch face.

Variations to LOL (or lol, as it may be) include the phonetic “lul,” or “the cool girl’s el-oh-el,” as Ms. Attia described it, which is “like a blase-inspired ‘lol’ — as if I am acknowledging that this is humorous but do you really have nothing better to do than text me about it?” There is also Lollerskates, lollercoaster, loltastic, words that are “fantastically creative,” as the linguist Gretchen McCulloch has written, but “ring vintage early 2000s.” Another expansion, she noted, is lolz or lulz — “but it’s more of a noun than an emotive response,” as in “so many lulz” (pronounced “lawlz”).

The Internet Tilde Perfectly Conveys Something We Don’t Have the Words to Explain

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The tilde, though, seems to have bypassed that problem. “If I say that your question is wonderful, you’re going to interpret it as the most common meaning,” explained linguist Michelle McSweeney, a researcher at Columbia University. “But if I say that it’s ~wonderful~, you understand that I don’t mean the boring, old meaning of wonderful.”

If there were such a thing as “visual onomatopoeia,” the tilde would definitely be it. The tilde looks like what it means — like it’s shrugging, or swaying in the breeze, like it sorta knows, ish.

Let’s All Stop Apologizing for the Delayed Response in Our Emails

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“Adulthood is emailing ‘sorry for the delayed response!’ back and forth until one of you dies,” writer Marissa Miller tweeted in February of last year… I was thinking about that tweet as I read an essay with an irresistible (to me) headline: “Do You Want to Be Known for Your Writing, or for Your Swift Email Responses?” Click. In the piece, which was published by the online literary magazine Catapult, author Melissa Febos writes about the many and varied ways our behavior around email is making our lives worse. The essay is wide-ranging, but what most captured my attention was this line: “Stop apologizing for taking a reasonable length of time to respond to an email.”

How many times did you write a version of that — “Sorry for the delayed response!” — just today? I’ve written it twice: One was in response to an email sent yesterday afternoon, the other in response to one sent two days ago. Febos wishes that I, and you, and all of us together, would kindly knock this off. “You are ruining it for the rest of us (and yourself) by reinforcing the increasingly accepted expectation of immediate response,” she writes. “A week seems like a perfectly reasonable length of time to take. Or longer.”