Emojis in Digital Communication

Updated: Mar 31, 2020

In this day and age, so many human relationships are conducted online and over the phone. While technology significantly improves our lives in most cases, it is also possible to make the case that technology is hindering our social skills as we regress more and more into ourselves and behind a screen. As a result of our dependence on computer-mediated communication (CMC), humans are losing their social skills.

In person, we communicate using all kinds of non-verbal indicators. Body language, facial expression, eye contact, tone and rhythm are extremely important when talking to other people. These little habits and personal tendencies are extremely revealing of a person’s character, emotional state, and can also be used to indicate when someone is lying.

How, then, in a digital age, can we be expected to gain the same level of communication and understanding without these physical, visual displays?

Lo’ and behold the creation of the emoji. A small face with different expressions and poses that can be attached to any message in order to augment meaning and tone. All smartphones and messaging services offer emojis, often with their own unique twist on the design. But, can we really substitute these little guys for the wealth of communication that face-to-face interaction offers? A group of university students set out to find out to what extent this substitution is an effective means of communication, and the romantic success of relationships that were founded on these terms… Put simply, will emojis help me to get a boyfriend!?

Texting at the beginning of a relationship can be frustrating. Everyone knows that. Misunderstandings occur, tone is inferred, too many full stops are used, not enough kisses… Some participants in the study claimed that emojis helped to soften initial communication, as messages accompanied by emojis were more welcomingly received.

Furthermore, repeated emoji use builds a rapport between the speakers, or texters, which mirrors the familiarity that comes with getting to know someone’s facial and body expressions. A good night kiss sent via text has the same effect as one in real life.

Some participants also admitted to the use of emojis in order to deceive or disguise their own feelings when texting a partner. In this case, a text that might be understood as angry or upset, could be smoothed over with an emoji that detracts from this emotional weighting, thus saving the sender from further aggravation, should the feeling have been inferred.

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