More than likely you’ve encountered the happy, frowning, or laughing face as a symbol in one of your written communications with someone within the last few hours. The journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences published a study January 17, 2017, that found that more than 90% of people rely on emojis (or emoticons) in their communications.
“We mostly use emojis like gestures, as a way of enhancing emotional expressions,” said Linda Kaye, coauthor of the paper. In written messages, which now commonly occur through email, texting, or instant messaging, emojis take the place of nonverbal communications. They allow people to emphasize their emotions more clearly, especially when words are limited in the ever-constant stream of brief text messages that people use to communicate each day. The emoji might be considered a visual aid to underline the intent of one’s words.
However, I have encountered some people with whom it is literally impossible to communicate without an emoji for every text, or even every sentence. If I do not respond in kind, I find myself wondering, Does that sound too blunt? Will she think I’m bored, indifferent, or rude? And so the emojis multiply to mask insecurities and keep genuine emotions at a safe distance.
Researchers want to know, and are still intent on discovering more tangibly, do emojis – and more generally text and Internet communications - change the way people communicate? In one respect, it seems reasonable to assume that they have had a major influence. Digital communications may be more “considered” and "consciously controlled” than face-to-face interactions, the research in Trends in Cognitive Sciences found.
As with my emoji-happy friend, the various smiley faces become a safeguard to shield words and thoughts behind what is at once an exaggerated but simplified response. This can make it more difficult to reach into true emotions in face-to-face interactions. We may be more aware and more restrained even with in-person dialogue, as well as more sensitive and alert to nonverbal expressions in others. An unconscious or unintentional expression or gesture by another may take on more weight than all the rest of the conversation.
Judgments are likely made more quickly in person. After all, we are used to going through sound bites of just a few dozen words at a time, illuminated by the grinning face at the end. But such terse conversation in a verbal setting may leave the other person feeling underwhelmed, and perhaps wondering if something said or done was found to be offensive. At the same time, the inability to express emotions as strongly and instantly as allowed by a happy or frowny face might leave a person feeling more frustrated, shut off, isolated, and misunderstood.
It seems evident that emojis have changed the way we communicate. We are at once more sensitive and more callous, more adept at picking up subtle cues and less likely to express ourselves fully, more enthusiastic and more withdrawn.
How has the emoji culture affected your communications? Have you inadvertently insulted or been insulted by too little emotion in a text or too much emotion in person? Have you felt inhibited from expressing your true emotion? Have you felt misunderstood or ignored by somebody?
Remember that even in the age of technology, we are not computers. Humans rely as strongly on the senses of sound, sight, smell, and touch to communicate and understand the world and the people around them. This is what your friends and family need from you, and what you are quietly craving from them.
> The the next time you receive important news from someone, call them up and talk and pray with them about the way they really feel about those circumstances.
> Schedule a lunch date or a shopping trip with someone you talk and text with daily. Even if you know everything about the other person’s life currently, nothing stands in for in-the-flesh companionship.
> Keep a door open to hospitality. Texts are okay, phone calls are great, cards are sweet. But nothing quite compares to being invited directly into another person’s life – whether it is a carefully prepared event or the opportunity to go alongside them in day-to-day activities.