Showing is replacing texting

Image for post
Image for post
Photo by pan xiaozhen

I lol’d at this nytimes article about text evolution. An excerpt:

In an era when “Moby Dick” can be rewritten in emoji, it makes sense that a few ha’s provoke such close scrutiny. Laughter, linguists will tell you, establishes closeness and conveys meaning. It sends micromessages to our conversation partner through length, tone, intonation and facial expressions. “It does the work of establishing cohesion,” said Michelle McSweeney, a research scholar at Columbia University who studies digital communication. “To say, ‘I feel comfortable enough around you to laugh.’”

And since we can’t crack up, lose it, giggle, guffaw, snort, break into hysterics, snicker, chuckle or simply nod and smile on text, we’ve had to come up with a host of different ways to get across what we mean.

Take hahaha, which we’ll call basic laughter. It’s actually anything but basic, with the ability to shorten (haha), lengthen (hahahahahaha), capitalize (HAHAHA), punctuate (Ha!), elongate (Haaaaaaaaa), or replace with an “e” (hehe) — though, realtalk, The New Yorker may have called hehehe a “younger person’s e-laugh,” but ask any actual young person today and his or her response is likely to be “ew.” (Heh, however, is acceptable.)

It’s a pretty good summary of the subtext of texting… if this was like 2013. It didn’t include such modern and cultural variants as “I’m screaming,” “I’m crying” or “lamoooooooo.”

In fact, Snapchat is replacing text for a lot of everyday communication among teens and college students, meaning there’s more showing emotion rather than trying to parse emotions through text. Here’s an exchange I had in a recent Snapchat focus group I held with college students:

Student: Sometimes I’d be watching a show and I’d be so emotionally invested, and I would pause it, go back, record it. Sometimes I’d be like, “I’m crying,” and a lot of random letters after that. Or like sometimes they’d hear me screaming in the background. I don’t know I just get really invested in my shows. I guess sometimes my emotions get the best of me, and I feel like I have to show this to someone who has already seen it and they would totally relate.

Me: You’re not the first person to say that. In our last focus group, one student said she would send a Snap saying, “I’m crying,” and show the tears.

Student: I agree with that though. I’ve screamed on Snapchat before because of anger. Because I’m telling my friends, “This is what just happened to me, and it’s ridiculous.” I would scream at the video. I’ve cried on Snapchat. There would be Snapchat stories of me where I’m just laughing, like why are you doing that? I can’t post that Instagram or Facebook, they’ll think I’m psychotic. I definitely post it on Snapchat because it’s just my friend group and it’s not like anyone’s gonna be like, “Are you okay?” Because it’s just Snapchat. I don’t know.

Me: So you’re showing a mood.

Student: Yeah, at the time.

So you could scream, cry or yell on Snapchat and your friend understand the subtext. You’re just blowing off steam or sharing a moment. There’s no need to add textual clues like lol or j/k.

In contrast, getting a text is starting to mean something completely different to teens and college students. Here’s another exchange from the focus group.

Student 1: If somebody randomly texted me, I’m gonna feel a little bit alarmed, like what’s wrong?

Student 2: Like yeah, “Is someone in the hospital?”

Snapchat is about everyday communication, and it’s more similar to face-to-face communication than it is to texting. It’s about checking in with a friend or sharing a random moment, whether that’s crying, screaming, yelling or literally lol’ing.

Educator. Podcast addict. Wrote a book about creativity: http://bit.ly/thecreativejourney

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store