Emotion and Emoticons

Lance Armstrong, Oprah Winfrey. Photo courtesy of Reuters

Lance Armstrong, Oprah Winfrey. Photo courtesy of Reuters

Renowned cyclist Lance Armstrong recently faced harsh criticism not just over his illicit drug use, lying and bullying, but over his very matter-of-fact approach to his first interview with Oprah Winfrey in which he admitted to using performance enhancing drugs.  New York Times writer Alessandra Stanley observed, “Armstrong appeared as reasoned and dispassionate telling the truth as he did all those years that he so fluently and convincingly spun a lie.” She said he spoke “earnestly but not emotionally” and noted that “the interview was strangely low on energy and emotion.” While the two-part interview may not have restored his credibility and certainly could not have instantly repaired his reputation, he at least got higher marks for his humanity in the second interview, by showing some emotion when he choked up talking about the impact of his behavior on his mother and his children.

Video is great for capturing emotion, but in today’s world so much communication takes place in short bursts of typed characters. But a lot of miscommunication occurs via text and tweet. In those space-constrained mediums – even in full-length emails – the reader can’t see a tear in the writer’s eye, the smile on his lips, or hear the sarcasm in his voice or see the twinkle in her eye.

Good, skilled writers can make you envision a sneaky little smile, a smug smirk, or flirtatious eye contact. They can have you laughing out loud or crying with empathy. But in messages that are restricted to 140 characters or less, this is very hard to do! (LOL is good shorthand for Laughing Out Loud, even if it is overused, but I prefer ROTFL – Rolling on the Floor Laughing – when something is really funny. )

Enter the emoticon!

While smiley faces and winks may appear to be overused sometimes, they do have their place in our texting world, adding that tiny hint at facial expression that can signal Emoticon - Cryingsarcasm or a joke or even love, taking the message one step beyond ‘text.’

MSN.com has the most vast assortment of emoticons I’ve ever seen– even an animated emoticon that cries – complete with tears! Check them out here!

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Posting News: Online or USPS

Baby and dad in Recovery Room

A cell phone photo from the delivery/recovery room

We all know that communication methods are changing and emerging, but what about interpersonal messages other than Christmas cards? Thank you notes, birth announcements, condolence cards. Well thank you notes are a struggle as old as parenting itself. Getting kids to write thank you notes is harder than getting them to do homework on a sunny spring day, and even people who were coerced into this social tradition as teens seem to fall off the thank you etiquette wagon as they get older. So the question of digital or paper is probably moot. Birth announcements… well electronic media is more of a social norm for these by now, since it is young people who have babies. Today’s baby-making generation is tech-savvy, taking photos of the baby in the delivery room and blasting out the details en masse in instantaneous real time. Now you have to admit – that’s cool. Even grandma probably has a cell phone on which she can receive a pic message.
But death notifications and condolence notes are still a no-no for email and text messaging. I know people who have received both. To learn of a friend or family member’s passing via text or email is just not cool. Sometimes people also learn of a passing via a Facebook post… “R.I.P. Joe Smith.” Ouch. This often leaves the reader asking around, “Is it true? Did Joe die? What happened?” Doesn’t seem to leave much room for the hug that is usually awaiting the listener if necessary when someone notifies them of a death in a face-to-face conversation. No opportunity to say over the phone, “are you sitting down?” (I actually had to say that once during such a phone call).
So by all means, blast those baby pics out and upload them to Facebook. But when it comes to bad news, pick up the phone or pay a personal visit, and for a condolence card, paper still trumps electronic.

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Holiday Greeting

Currier and Ives - Central Park

Currier and Ives Christmas Card

Today we have more ways than ever to communicate. I overheard a conversation recently about the dwindling tradition of sending Christmas cards. A man said, “e-cards have made traditional cards obsolete.” I don’t agree. First of all, even in this day of ubiquitous social media, some people don’t have email. Second, you can’t decorate your mantle with emails. Well, you could, but it wouldn’t have quite the same charm as Currier & Ives. Okay, I’m dating myself. And I’m not really that old. (Some of you won’t even know who Currier & Ives are. Think classic winter scenes…) Weaker still than e-cards would be the blanket greeting via a status update on Facebook or a tweet to those who happen to follow you on Twitter.
There is still a place in many hearts for a traditional printed Christmas card. Although I will admit that when they are not even personalized or signed by the sender they lack the warmth that they ostensibly were meant to convey.
It’s like the paperless society… its predicted, planned and imagined, but alas we are not there yet. Let’s let Christmas cards be one of the last hold-outs for paper.

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Communication… fascinating!

It’s something that we all do every day. Not just by talking to each other and writing emails but when we gesture at the person in car in front of us, roll our eyes at a stupid comment or touch a friend’s arm while we’re talking.  And that’s just interpersonal communication. Then there are the messages that we send in how we dress and act, and the agenda-driven communication of government and businesses trying both subtlely and overtly to get their messages out to us.

That’s what I love about communication – it’s everywhere and everyone does it. Even the person who refuses to speak is communicating something, although it may be hard to figure out what it is they are saying.


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