Someone, somewhere actually spent time, money and thought in investigating the psychological responses behind sending and receiving like statuses on social media. Probably an investor in Facebook. There’s even a scale to measure Facebook addiction: the Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale or BFAS for short.
We started with straightforward acknowledgements on emails – remember those? How excited was I to get a notification that the email had been opened, although not necessarily read. In the early days of Facebook we had the same thing and we could acknowledge having read someone’s post. Then the ‘thumbs up’ arrived. Now, we have different faces so we can show just how the post made us feel and soon we’ll be able to do a full Nero and ‘thumbs down’ a post, although I’m not sure I’d know what that actually stands for – that you also agree it’s a bad thing or that you dislike the post?
Stepping back to the present and those emotional responses, I wonder how many clicked on ‘angry’ when all they really did was tut. How many clicked on ‘tearful’ when all they did was shake their head? ‘Laughing out loud’ face for a smile? We have begun to over-exaggerate our emotions online as we do with texting – rofl has been typed way more times than it actually happened in that real life situation. This is how ridiculous it is: the whole family was sat at the dining table and someone said something slightly humorous; my daughter immediately said, “lol.” She might have been laughing silently, but definitely not out loud.
So why do we do it? Because it’s the only option? From the point above, when my daughter could have remained silent, it appears to be more than that. Or does it? Is it a chicken/egg situation? People became used to exaggerated contractions in text speak and looked for the equivalent in social media to the point where it has now become perfectly valid to send a crying face to someone who tells you they’ve just wrecked their new manicure. Or do people feel inside what they portray with the emoji? Will we become so stoic in our natural responses, unable to express our true emotions unless we can display them on a screen?
You have to admire the marketing concept, the way users are desperate to see the ‘likes’ and, to try and maximise the number of likes they receive, they push them out in the hopes that people will reciprocate. You might think me cynical, but I direct you to the study I mentioned earlier. In fact, I think there are guides somewhere that tell you to do exactly that, something along the lines of ‘how to improve your online presence’. Improve? From what? On what scale? How will you know when you have ‘improved’? What is the goal?
I am unsure which has the bigger emotional pull, the number of likes one receives on posts or the (ever-fluctuating) number of friends.
Working in a school, I can tell you that social media rules teenager’s lives completely. More than music or sport. Even teen fashion relies on the medium. However, we have a strict ‘no devices’ policy for years 7 to 9 and I cannot begin to tell you how nice it is to see the kids talk to each other, play tag and socialise during their breaks. Even better, most of them keep up the face to face interactions in upper years.
(I daren’t even touch upon online bullying or sexting which would involve another whole blog post.)
I wonder where this need to exaggerate will lead us? People already post false, photo-shopped images of themselves on dating sites, develop creative language loopholes to evade answering questions unfavourably (fake news, anyone?) and we are slowly developing and encouraging a culture where I am never sure what anyone means anymore. Language has always had the ability to be the most violent and passive of tools, able to diplomatically convey acres of feeling emotionlessly and the written word remains one of the greatest communication bridges. What’s that rule – don’t drink and drive/don’t drink and type? This is when written communication fails us. Spectacularly. It can turn into a smack in the face. Just think of how you feel when someone sends you a message in block capitals. And when we live in an atmosphere of exaggeration, that smack can become a full blown K.O., with tweets and circling stars.
Deconstructed, scrunched language, abbreviations (so many!) and emoticons (culturally diverse ones, too) – the written word has gone back to caveman drawings. What will our future selves think when they come across the simplistic constructs of our chosen language of communication?
There is one, undeniably, positive element the two have in common: it doesn’t what language you speak, you’ll still be able to understand what the other person is trying to convey – although it’s probably exaggerated. Lol (I’m not, though)