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.
Thank you for this post! Yes when we text online, the words seem unable to convey our full meaning, so we may add many punctuation marks and emojis to soften our tone. It is so annoying that we can’t tell the emotion of the person behind the screen from the short sentences sometimes, and those rules applied for formal writing is even more confusing the tone, like the commons and one big paragraph as you mentioned, I can imagine how anxious I will be if my friends text me like that. That is such an interesting topic, and I indeed suffered from such online social problems from time to time, thank you for pointing that out!
I think it is important to reflect on the ways we see acceptable to text since the varied opinions might create some frictions in the communication process. In my opinion, most of the times these problems surface when you are not close to the people you are texting, because at the end of the day if you are confused by a friends tone you can easily ask them about it. I don’t really know what kind of solution could be found to avoid these miscommunications. Your idea of creating some formal texting rules was very interesting. However, as you say it would be a bit challenging due to the different conventions existing depending on the demographic. Besides that, I think that texting norms are extremely mutable and change with time, which I guess would make it harder to formalize. Anyways I wanted to thank you for raising this point since I think that it is a relevant problem that affects us all
I found your blog post very interesting! Because I had been wondering why some of my friends back in my country ask me ‘Are you angry?’ every time I text them and now you answered to my question. I joke a lot in real-life and apparently becasue of that I am confusing them when I text them. These days I am using emoji to make my facial expression clear. However, they say that emojis make my text looks even more sarcastic. I think this is enhanced by the language we use. Since my country is one of the highest contextual countries, we often do not really explain our emotions clearly in conversation. It is too much for me to think about how other people interpret my texts every time so then I always think that we can never replace a face-to-face conversation with texting.
I very much relate to this blog post, lol. I’ve had multiple situations where I’ve made a sarcastic remark which was misinterpreted. Since then, I’ve tried to life by the motto “sarcasm is the lowest form of wit.” I’ve certainly also overthought the messages I’ve received from others, but I try to not hold them to any standards as I’m a pretty bad texter myself. Quite often, I only become comfortable texting someone if we’ve somehow established a form of texting “ettiquete:” kind of like the unwritten rules you describe. Like I can send certain memes to certain friends because I know they will think it’s funny, while I’d have to explain it to the other. In terms of emojis, I wish they brought back Android-blobs. I think most emojis are kind of creepy and their emotions are too extreme. But alas, it seems that the uniform circles have taken over.