When I started taking American Sign Language my Sophomore year of high school, the teacher emphasized that it wasn’t enough to use the signs. We were to emphasize our communication with body language and facial expressions. The more important the sign, the longer we took to make the sign. If you watch Switched at Birth, or any movie or TV show that involves deaf culture, you’ll find that everyone using ASL uses intense facial expression and body language to complement their sign language.
One of the first things I learned during my interpersonal communication class in college was that humans use facial expressions, body language – and for those able to verbally communicate – tone inflection to communicate. Having taken ASL, and having a subconscious understanding as a human, the idea was not foreign to me: it just made sense.
When emoji usage became popular in non-academic, social media, and general casual conversations, I understood immediately. In fact, I was already well-known for using smiley faces when communicating with friends and family. The reason I accepted them so quickly is because emojis, in our online and text-based communication culture, substitute for the absence of facial expression, tonal inflection, and body language.
Grammar helps, but when you’re on Twitter, quickly texting a friend, or using your phone to comment on Facebook; emojis pick up where correct grammar or physical cues are lacking. I think that this need to re-introduce physical expression is also responsible for the intense gravitation towards the usage of Vine, YouTube, SnapChat, Periscope, FaceTime, Hangouts and any other medium that allows users to read body language.
Verbal cues are not as affective, in my opinion, because some people speak with a monotonous tone, or are able to easily disguise sarcasm or seriousness in their verbal inflection. For the same reason that it takes time to understand someone’s verbalized sense of humor, we use video to communicate with bloggers (now Vloggers and Viners). We prefer to see someone, so that we can analyze their physical attributes to truly comprehend what they are communicating. Though I cannot speak for anyone in the Deaf Community, I assume that they prefer to see someone sign a radio broadcast, or anything spoken without video, to better understand the humor used. Closed Captioning does not use signs or symbols to communicate a joke.
The next time someone you know jokes that our kids (or the next generation) is reverting back to hieroglyphs, remind them that emojis are a more advanced form of text-based, casual communication. Physical presence is necessary to truly understand and feel included in any communication and emojis are the 21st Century’s digital answer to the reality that we can’t always be present.
They may hold no place in the academic world or in a context that demands an objective voice – but emojis are essential to communicating what text-based communication cannot do alone: emotion.
Stephani is a curious soul who self-identifies as a philosophic, lifelong learner. She also likes to dye her hair various shades of red, purple, blue, and turquoise. Her personal interests include learning new things, empowering those around her, listening to the stories of others, and connecting previously disconnected dots.
Read her blog if you like a little bit of profanity mixed in with your professional research life. Her blog is used to communicate her cognitive tools interactions, her action research data/hopes/dreams, and her experience with testing new learning designs. Her research interests include failure communication, self-efficacy, research, games in learning, and many other topics (the list grows by the day).
Professionally, Stephani develops professional and technical documents. Additionally, she produces technical tutorials and research communication.
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