Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Text Your Heart Out - Emotion in Text

It is a seemingly controversial concept, that there can exist emotion in nothing more than text.  However, between those that grow up in the era of texting, blogs, instant messages and email, it is not only possible, but something happening everyday.
Emotional texting is the idea that, word choice, slang dialect, incorrect or excessive capitalization, purposeful misspellings, excessive punctuation and sentence fragmentation timing all come into play when trying to convey and comprehend text.  When using the term “text message”, it does not simply refer to cell phone SMS, but all forms of textual messaging including, but not limited to; SMS, email, instant messaging, online comments and social network status messages.
In a generation that grew up in the internet age and the instant feedback of SMS texting age, I believe people have started to adapt communication needs to portray their emotion via stylistic changes in text.

The theory of LOL.
LOL is loosely an acronym for “Laugh out Loud”.  Which, when it was first used, actually meant “that is really funny”.  However, a lot of people will use LOL as a substitute for acknowledgment. It is widely accepted that if someone says something even slightly humorous, the response might be “lol”.  This isn’t to say the receiving party is laughing, it’s more of an acknowledgment that the message was received.  it’s also becoming something we are unaware of.  Some people tend to use LOL way more often responses, even if they offer a more detailed response right there after.  For some, it is second nature to respond with LOL.  Why?  LOL is a term that is associated with a positive connotation, because in it’s original use, humor is generally positive.  So as a response, the sender feels good about the comment they have made.  LOL has many more meanings, which will be discussed in a minute.

I’m Being Sarcastic.
Sarcasm is something normally easy to pickup when talking in person, or even on the phone.  Voice inflection is used, and certain words are changed.  Say to your self sarcastically “Oh, that’s what you mean”. As if you are rolling your eyes at the same time.  You make the “Oh” sound longer, the word “that’s” is also drawn out, and then the rest of the sentence is said rather quickly as your tone lowers. Then you world normally look at the person a bit longer so they could see your eyes rolling.  So, in text, how would you portray sarcasm?  Identifying how you would say it like we just did gives us insight.  When grammar is not as important we can apply new rules.  So, if I was needing to portray sarcasm without first telling you I’m being sarcastic, I would write something similar to “Ohh, THAT’S what you mean...  Reading this, one should be able to actually say this in their head differently.  There are 3 techniques applied above.  “Ohh” is using excessive “Hs” to depict extending the sound as it’s said. The comma is overused here to show a pause.  “That’s” is fully capitalized in order to bring the most emphasis in the sentence to that word.  The ellipses at the end denotes trailing off, which can be seen as looking at the person after the phrase has been said.  This concept is similar to spelling a word phonetically, in that you are changing the grammar of the phrase to depict what you mean. In phonetics, you change the spelling of a word to tell the reader how it’s meant to be pronounced.

Don’t YELL at me.
Another emotional portrayal often used in text is the idea of yelling, or raising your voice.  Using all capital letters is often the way most choose to show that they are raising their “voice”.  But capitalization alone is not enough.  We can again utilize punctuation, albeit incorrectly, to show levels of yelling.  In normal speech, we have the ability to yell, scream, slowly raise our voice, and even use body language to show an even greater rage. So, with text, how can we achieve the same effect?  The mildest form of yelling is all capital letters with no punctuation.  DONT TOUCH THE STOVE.  Adding an exclamation point ramps up the energy. DONT TOUCH THE STOVE!  One might add multiple exclamation points now to really tell the reader they are infuriated.  DONT TUOCH THE STOVE!!!!!  This doesn’t only apply to negative commands like these.  WHAT!? Is a very disturbed and anxious way of saying “what”.  The mild form of that expressive “what” would be to not use capital letters. what!?  You get a smiler sense of urgency, but not nearly as urgent as all capital letters.  That’s because in speech you might say “What” and have a serious look on your face, or scream out loud “what” as if you really need people to feel that energy.

No, no nope, nah
In text there are many ways to say “no”.  This is very similar to speech when talking informally.  If you are with friends, and someone asks if you want the last piece of pizza, you don’t say outright “No” and leave it there. It’s impolite, and the friend will sense that.  The same is true for text.  Let’s say they asked if you wanted the last slice of pizza over text.  Responding simply with No, would come across as rude.  You could say “no thanks”.  Or if it’s in your slang, you could say “nah I’m good” or something similar to that respect.  You are basically being polite through text.  The same applies to other forms of “no”.  “Do you have any cheese sticks left?”  “Nope.”  That is a gentle, nice way of saying no.  If the conversation went as follows: “Do you have any cheese sticks left?”.  “No.” That will be read with a harsher tone.  Because the word is short, and there are no modifiers, the tone feels short. Being ‘short’ is generally considered rude, thus the dad-like statement “Don’t get short with me”.
The same applies to yes as well. However, in my opinion, The Yes’ are measured in terms of their negativity, not their positivity.  “Did you take out the trash?” Yes.  Again, this is short, and thus a short tone of voice.  Simply taking the capitalization and the period off however, results in a much softer answer.  “Did you take out the trash?” “yes”.  The lack of punctuation in this case results in a less serious tone, therefore less rude.  Alternatively, one might say “yea” which is always a nicer way of saying yes.  Form’s of yes can be interesting.  The term “yep”, is happy and energetic.  The same kind of positive feel good energy “nope” had.  That’s mostly due the “pe” at the end.  It’s hard to say Yep and Nope with an angry or upsetting tone.  Therefore when someone reads those back in their head, its more positive.

Smart phones require more work.
when cell phone texting hit it’s booming phase, cell phones had 9 key 3 letter type pads.  Each of the 9 keys had 3 letters and you had to hit a number 1 to 3 times to get a letter, then move on.  Some users trusted T9, and ‘intelligent’ guessing engine that would try to guess what letter you wanted based on the context of the surrounding letters, but it was not accurate if you had a large vocabulary.  So for a while, teenager’s fingers wired new motor maps to type out words in a binary-like pattern. 1, 33, 555, 22, 11.  If you talk to a teenager or 20 something that texted with a “flip phone” (as they were called) for many years, they could probably type words without even looking.  I can still type on those keyboards without looking, just because of the sheer volume I used to text with those phones, my brain has made a lovely neural connection to make it easier.
The nice thing about flip phones, is that they never gave you any punctuation.  So it was very easy to depict emotion, since you had to put the effort into your punctuation.  I even feel that, because this was the case for so long, that is what allowed this emotional texting to form. Not to mention that in all online forms of typing, you are responsible for punctuation.
Now we have smart phones with full querty keyboards and intelligent, automatic grammar engines.  This actually makes it harder to text with emotion, and slowly is changing how it works.  Any sentence I start on my phone has a capital letter.  As we learned sometimes that capital letters gives the wrong impression, so it needs to be changed.  The phone also fixes misspellings.  Which, again, is not what I want at times.  I want it to fix the words I misspelled, but didn’t mean to misspell. One big problem I have with the iPhone autocorrect is how it changes LOL.  I normally don’t say LOL, because nothing is ever THAT funny.  (notice how I capitalized “that” so that you would read it differently).  LOL means “seriously funny”.  lol, is the space filler that one normally means to type, not LOL that the iPhone often changes it to.
There is still a place for writers style, such as blogs, stories, essays, anything scholastic, research papers, business friendly email messages, email in general, long messages and any other kind of formal media.  NOTE: none of this refers to the tweens constant omitting of vowels in words or no-use misspellings. (Ex. Rly = Really” or wut = what) But in the world of peer to peer text, “kids” have developed this new “dialect” similar to phonetical spelling that allows them to portray emotion in their text.


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  2. Very interesting, and true. Lately, I've been using "lol" a lot more, especially when texting women, because they interpret the sentences surround the text as then being relaxed, lighthearted and fun, rather than serious and stodgy. It's basically like adding the subtle byline, "take it or leave it," to your message, or "it's no big deal to me how you interpret this message." Finding ways to convey emotion through text is very important. I've been in situations where the meaning of my texts were misconstrued and ended up in full out arguments. As they say, voice tone and body language account for the majority of communication, so you have to be careful. Since you can't see the other person's face, you don't know what mood they're in, and you don't know what emotions they might project onto your words.

  3. Skype and Facebook actually show you the message "So and so is typing," which adds to the emotion of the text as well. How long did it take the other person to respond? Did he or she stop mid-way through, think, and then start typing again? If you see the words "So and so is typing..." for nearly a minute and then the response ends up being a simple "Yeah," then you know what likely happened: the other person typed out a long response, thought better of it, tried editing it, then gave up and deleted it, choosing not to cause strife or to think more about their response first. Texting is really nice in that sense that it allows you to really think before you respond. It's acceptable behavior to wait 2 to 10 minutes to respond to a text, but that would never be the case when responding verbally.

  4. That's a good point. I meant to add a section about response time. Plus, it's not just skype and Facebook, iMessage on iPhone does it too. But even if you don't have a typing indicator, you still can gauge response time. Is this person engaged in conversation with me? Or are they just talking to me at their leisure? How important is the conversation to them? Those kinds of things.

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