Texting has become the preferred method of communication for many of us. We are able to connect with others by texting when we might not otherwise be able to talk on the phone or meet with each other in person. Some might say that texting eliminates the social component of communication. However, texting can be a highly social method of communication. Knowing the social rules around texting can be incredibly important. Texting is an entirely new way of communicating with one another, and learning the social skills involved in texting is an area that is not frequently talked about.
Recent research suggests that texting is actually just a form of speech - we use our fingers to talk instead of our mouths (TED Talk - Txting Is Killing Language - JK). It’s different than writing an email or a letter because with texting we can write the way we talk. Increasing evidence suggest that texting is really the development of a whole new language. It’s almost like a new dialect that we have created based on new technology. Being able to text proficiently may show similarities to speaking two languages or two different dialects. Being bilingual has a host of cognitive and linguistic benefits. So if texting is really a new emerging language, why not learn to be proficient?
Consider the following specific social elements used in texting, and how they relate to being a good social communicator:
Emojis: Emojis are small images and icons that depict a wide range of objects, gestures, facial expressions, locations, and states of being. Emojis are used to playfully express emotions and attitudes in a visual way. We all know how impactful these simple images can be. For example, if someone shares sad news with you via text message and includes an emoji at the end of the sentence, the emoji they select is crucially important to the message. If you accidentally include an excited emoji when you share bad news, your message might be interpreted as being rude or not using prosocial behavior. Using emojis can visually show your communication partner that you empathize with them and understand their message on an emotional level. A simple face or picture of an object or gesture carries a great deal more meaning than one would expect at first glance.
GIFs/Memes: People who are proficient social texters also use brief animations in the form of GIFs (Graphic Interchange Formats) or Memes (pictures emblazoned with words that are culturally significant) to support the written text, joke, or chat with their communication partner. Using GIFs and Memes in text is a complex social skill that requires perspective taking skills. We need to think about what our communication partner might find funny, what their previous knowledge of the subject is, and predict how they might react. For example, if we send a GIF from the TV show The Office, we need to know first that our communication partner has some knowledge of the show, or that the information presented in the GIF we send is relevant to that person’s life in some way. If it didn’t apply, then we might be sending GIFs or memes simply because we find them funny ourselves. Using GIFs and memes appropriately in text conversations is a great social skill to develop and practice when texting with others.
Abbreviations: Abbreviations in text have taken on meaning that is much more subtle. For example, LOL doesn’t really mean ‘laugh out loud’ anymore. It’s actually more a marker of empathy or accommodation and as such, an important social skill to learn. Another example would be using a slash to indicate a change in the scene or topic. When we are verbally speaking to each other, there are lots of non-verbal polite prosocial behaviors that we engage in in order to be good social communicators. And while you might think that texting is not as personal in regards to markers of empathy and polite social engagement, there are many little elements that people add to their texts in order to be good social communicators.
Texting is a great new form of communication, and there are many benefits to engaging in this type of interaction. The ways in which we text create a prosocial environment even without verbal communication. By being aware of the empathy markers we provide and being thoughtful about the emojis, GIFs, memes, and abbreviations we use while texting, we can practice good social skills and become prosocial communicators.
If understanding and using the subtle social skills related to texting is something that is a challenge for you, we can help! Let’s chat today!