Our new best friend, the instant messenger. Yahoo!, AOL, MSN, ICQ, and all the IM's that preceded them. Conversation in real-time, minus the vision of the person you're talking to, and minus the voice too. We're talking about your average chat here, without the webcam or the video conferencing. It's easy, convenient, and ranges from cheap to free on the price scale. Perfect. A communications revolution infact.
The only problem is that when you take away the physical presence, and take away the sound, we lose the most valuable, the majority, of the communication elements.. i.e. body langauge, and with it we lose all our clues as to how something is actually meant to come across. Sincere or sarcastic? Funny or factual? Convinced or conspicuous? Even simply, happy or sad? How do we know?
Hence the arrival of the emoticon. Emotions as icons. Icons to substitute emotions. Body language reduced to 20 by 20 pixel images. Fantastic. Because we don't want to misinterpret, or be misinterpreted. Furthermore, it's an improvement on real life; we can't always control the way we feel, and the way our body langauge portrays our emotions, but we can effectively choose which emotion we'd like to have in different situations online. Hiding our real feelings has never been easier. The web in general I guess let's us be perceived in whatever way we want.
When using MSN, it's not that the truth disappears, it just sometimes gets slightly lost in amoungst the emoticons we choose, as they are not necessarily an accurate reflection on what your body language would actually be saying in real life. Also, I often think the meaning behind our words is blatant, but we change or even negate the way we want them to be read by adding 'hehe', 'lol', ':p' and whatever other joking jestures we come up with. Ever wondered if that joking criticism was actually meant? Or if that funny statement actually had a serious subtext?
The emoticons were meant to overcome the problems of emotionless plain text, but instead they have added to the potential for confusion and (deliberate) misinterpretation. Are instant messengers really the amazing revolution the seem to be? Or are we again just taking everything at face value? IM's: our best friend, or worst enemy?
Perhaps it's all good when talking to web friends on the other side of the planet, but when we take real life friendships and relationships online, we maybe complicate it all with ambiguity caused by the wee pictures that were meant to be the solution to exactly that.
It's the Emoticon Dynamic.
Graham's blog: politics, poetry, and introspection