No, I’m not talking about non-verbal communication, i.e. shrugs, facial expressions, etc. I’m talking about emojis and, specifically, a new form of communication: “fake typing.”
As Mike Elgan explains in his newsletter (which I highly recommend to anyone interested in technology), when you’re typing a message to someone, apps tend to show what is called a “typing indicator.” As in: “Nicholas is typing…” In some apps, it’s three dots in a thought bubble.
But then they don’t send.
The reply is the other person typing without sending. Each person sees the typing indicator. And that’s the whole conversation.
The idea is to convey that “I’m thinking about you” or “hey.”
The trend started on Snapchat among flirting teenagers, then spread to other messaging platforms and other people for other purposes.
Rise of the Non-Words
This spectacularly non-verbal communication is the latest in a long and growing number of ways to talk online without words.
It started with emoticons in the 80’s on CompuServe, or whatever, when people started using punctuation to indicate non-verbal reaction, like the smiley face and winkie face — 🙂 and ;), respectively.
The rise of the web and smartphones enabled these to be mostly replaced by emoji or stickers, of which there are thousands and which can be automatically generated in messaging apps using emoticons.
Like buttons on Facebook (and the extended range of similar expressions, called “Reactions”) and hearts on Twitter are another way to respond without words.
On social media, an increasing number of comments to posts come in the form of animated GIFs.
The use of GIFs on social media come in two varieties — with words typed on the image, and without. Those without tend to be the facial expressions and gestures, often of celebrities from famous movies or TV appearances, which are presumably supposed to convey the reaction of the person posting them.
Surprisingly, this is heavily deployed during heated political exchanges on social media. Instead of addressing someone’s argument with a counter-argument, the response is a GIF of someone laughing or rolling their eyes.
Which, I gotta confess, as a writer, was pretty much my reaction when I learned about fake typing… Am I the only one feeling we’ll soon be reverting to grunts?