Facebook is a social networking service that hosts 1.13 billion users every day. They spend a daily average of 50 minutes online, enjoying the possibility “to stay connected with friends and family, to discover what’s going on in the world, and to share and express what matters to them” (Facebook Newsroom). Facebook is a powerful platform for tracking acquaintances, local and global events and societies, news and personal interests. It is our entire social life, all in one place, available through the click of a single button.
Like spiders spinning their invisible web, we build the network around us, adding new people to each branching point. Not only is Facebook an ever expanding infrastructure, but an opportunity to strengthen our social connections. This is when we open up Messenger.
We may spend an entire evening online, chatting feverishly with one or multiple acquaintances. After many lengthening hours, “hahah” has become punctuation and “lol” is dropped without even cracking a smile. Fifteen minutes is a reasonable time to zone out and re-emerge with an enthusiastic remark. Our responses begin to deviate from our real emotions.
As with any form of texting, our intentions and typed words struggle to perfectly align. A few lines of text refuses to fully carry our train of thought; our best wishes may catch a tone of insincerity with a missed exclamation mark; our negative remarks seem all the more personal when tattooed to the growing text feed.
We are not left to interpret meaning from words alone. To help visualize our facial expressions, we are given a range of universally recognized cartoon like faces. Yet from all the available emojis, none actually capture our feelings, but project us through a limited, oversimplified visual vocabulary. The human face uses 26 different muscles to generate a single smile – the timing and duration of which can dramatically shift a conversation. To condense the ranging nuances of the human smile into a small smiley face is a modern tragedy.
Furthermore, people are experts in reading emotions projected by body movement. If someone is turning away from us during a conversation, they are indicating a departure. If someone leans in and lowers their voice, they are reaching out for trust. If someone laughs until tears run down their face, we cannot fight back the infectious giggles. Indeed, emotions are contaminating – shared feelings and social experiences deepen companionship and understanding.
Decoding digitized emotions can lead to doubt and confusion. What makes us who we are – the uniqueness of our personality, the fluctuating tonality of our voice, our restless eyes and our quirky gestures – all fade in translation. We are left guessing the presence of sarcasm, sassiness, annoyance, resilience, romantic feelings or indifference, which creates leeway for ambiguity. See how you would respond to the following correspondences:
You’re just making fun of me now, stop it 😀
Omg. You have no choice but to come out with us <33
Hahah. I’m crying
The range of debatable interpretations in each statement would make an English teacher chuckle.
How to dodge the minefield
To invest in honest, valuable interactions that deepen emotional connections with others, favor face to face conversations, video or even voice calls. Fading away for minutes at a time becomes impossible, and the conversation becomes more meaningful.
Reading the expressions within a face or tone is much more efficient than between the lines of Facebook.