Before I started blogging I used to get quite irritated with the annoying little icons, smiley faces, ‘LOL’ type comments , indiscriminate use of exclamation marks! and the ‘god, aren’t I funny!!!’ implication of several exclamation marks in email communication. But I think I understand now. Psychology tells us that most of our communication is non-verbal (I can’t be bothered researching the actual figure, but suffice to say it is highish.) As a therapist I know that I ‘listen’ to the non-verbals just as much as the verbal content of people’s communication. Posture, facial expression, eye-contact, tone of voice (paralanguage) and gestures all communicate a different aspect of the story I am hearing. Sometimes people tell me that they are OK, but their non-verbals tell a very different story. I listen to my own body and internal experience, which will often pick up their unconscious communications thus allowing me to make the implicit more explicit.
So if communication is so complex and richly textured, how do we express ourselves in discussions that rely entirely on the written word? (I think this is different to ‘proper’ writing, by the way, which doesn’t rely on an explicit exchange between author and reader in the way that blogs, emails, letters etc. do.) It is very easy to misunderstand and redefine the other’s intention and motivation. We unconsciously project our own paranoia and then persecute the other. (Think of all those arguments that have started from a poorly worded text message. I am thinking of starting a support group for people who compulsively misunderstand text messages and find themselves in yet another text argument.)
Necessity is the mother of invention. Hence we shoe-horn in those smiley faces, ‘LOL’ commentaries and further indiscriminate exclamation marks (!) so we can let the reader know that ‘I’m a nice person really, even though I have just left a potentially disagreeable message on your blog’. They may be a bit flat-footed in comparison to our usual complex psychological communications, but I guess they do the trick.