emoticons and communication

The Evolution of Human Communication in a Post-Digital Age: Emoticons, Internet Slang, and Texting

Do emoticons, internet slang, and texts affect the way we communicate?

Even just 15 years ago, I wasn’t texting and web chatting at the rate I am today. It wasn’t that the technologies weren’t available – they were – but only a very few early adopters used them regularly.

Today, however, nearly everyone I know uses some sort of digital communication platform, such as Facebook, Skype, Google Chat, or email, and we all text. In the fast-paced business world of Silicon Valley, I use chat constantly every day, and so does almost everyone at my company. We thrive on either Skype or Microsoft Lync, both popular chat platforms.

But with these new modes of communication came new problems. It’s a common frustration that people are not able to interpret emotion through email and other text-based programs, creating confusion about the meaning or tone behind someone’s written comments. Words alone can communicate our thoughts, but not necessarily our emotions and attitudes.

In fact, it’s been said that 93% of communication is non-verbal. Written internet communication removes the use of hand gestures, facial expressions, volume, pitch, and intonation. This is where emoticons step in, allowing online conversation to become easier, more effective, and more natural.

The other issue is speed. Even if you are a fast typist, it’s likely that you can speak faster than you can type. Internet acronyms like LOL, BRB, and TTYL, as well as other kinds of internet slang and shorthand, make it easier to have rapid-fire conversations while typing. In short, they make it feel more like you’re speaking to someone in person.

It’s nearly impossible to effectively communicate via chat without the use of emoticons and internet slang, and the end result is a conversation that would be completely cryptic to the masses just 15 years ago.

British linguist David Crystal says, “The main effect of the Internet on language has been to increase the expressive richness of language, providing the language with a new set of communicative dimensions that haven’t existed in the past.”

This kind of light-speed evolution of our language will only accelerate as technology advances and becomes further integrated into our way of life. It’s hard to picture what communication will look like in another 15 years.

Can you imagine a language comprised of just shorthand and emoticons? Perhaps communication will become a transmission of ideas and concepts similar to Egyptian hieroglyphics.

If this is the case, how will we communicate in written form without a computer to share these increasingly complex emoticons? Will using them so frequently make us even more dependent on technology as a means of efficient communication?

We are already spending an ever-increasing amount of time attached to our technology. How many times have you seen someone texting on their phone while surrounded by people at a party? Forgoing in-person human interaction for a connection with someone who could be across the world.

Will the day come when typing replaces speech as the preferred method of human communication? Or will our speech merely adapt and evolve to incorporate these textual additions in some way, shape, or form? The only sure things are that technology will continue to evolve and that it will alter the way we interact with each other.