Emoticons – Online Body Language?

Emoticon Pumpkin
Photo by Neal Gills (via Flickr).

Chances are you’ve used some variant of that pumpkin’s symbol somewhere.  It could have been in an e-mail, a text message, or a tweet.  Maybe it was to a friend, a relative, or someone you’ve never even met.  Perhaps you were surprised, or happy, or just plain confused.

When you think about it, text based communication online is lacking quite a bit compared to person-to-person interactions.  Perhaps the most significant  difference is body language.  There is quite a bit of contention about how much communication is nonverbal, and it certainly depends upon the circumstances of the situation as to whether you’re going to trust someone’s words, tone, or body language more.  But the bottom line is that in most forms of digital communication we don’t even have the option of using the extra data that tone or facial expressions provide.  We’ve got to go on text alone.

And let’s face it, the written word isn’t always crystal clear (consider the case of Roger Casement, who may or may not have been hanged because of a comma).  So oftentimes we can be left in the dark about the writer’s state of mind – they may despise you or think you’re the best thing since sliced bread.  No way to tell.

Well that’s not entirely true.  When you think about it, we can use text based representations of emotions like emoticons and emoji as a substitute for nonverbal communication when we’re online.  They can provide us with at least a hint of a person’s mood or intended tone in a quick and dirty fashion.  Sure, they may not necessarily be appropriate for the corporate world (yet), but they’re great for two friends talking.  And with over four billion people across the world connected to both one another and the web via cell phones, these icons may just represent one way to overcome some of the language barriers that separate us all.

And that’s kind of cool, don’t you think? 😛