So this time I decided to write about something that I—as a millennial, I think—supposedly should have been aware of. But I have horrible social skills and it stands to reason that if I can hardly keep up with verbal conversations, then digital conversations will be just as hard. Anyway, in my Study of Grammar and Linguistics class (which is all about the digital world), I learned that it was against proper etiquette to use periods when texting. I had not known this!
Why did nobody tell me? I mean, sure, I hardly text anyone beyond my mom anymore (look, there is nothing wrong with not having friends; being alone is not synonymous with being lonely), but back in high school there were plenty of people I texted. Unfortunately, I don’t have any of our messages saved, thanks to me finally having to get a new phone, but I think I can remember that they almost never used proper punctuation.
At the time, I had assumed that, well . . . people got lazy with punctuation when it came to the digital world. After all, we were all teenagers, still in school, where we were used to writing papers in proper MLA format and would be marked down in our grades if we made a mistake. Texting—and social media sites like Facebook—finally gave us the freedom to write the way we wanted to; to not care about grades or teachers lecturing us or having things be “right” or “correct” all the time. I figured that my friends thought that since texting wasn’t anywhere close to writing an academic paper, the rules about punctuation and grammar didn’t apply so they didn’t care about using them.
But no, it’s a little bit different after all. Apparently there are rules, just ones I hadn’t been aware of until someone told me. And maybe that’s my Asperger’s, preventing me from fully grasping all the subtle nuances of human connection and interaction, which always makes me wonder: well, how does it work, then? Is it some unofficial rule that everyone but me is aware of? How did it get started; did someone do it first and others followed suit or was it a simultaneous thing? Why is this a thing? The psychologist in me is ever curious and always wants answers, so I decided to look it up.
Guys. There. Is. So. Much. Stuff. About. This. I really should have known that texting was a whole category of communication in and of itself, with its own standards of etiquette and dos and don’ts. Just like verbal conversations have unspoken but unquestionable rules, so too does texting. And of course everyone’s going to have their own styles: you could think of those that use a lot of emojis as the same people who are often over dramatic in their expressions; maybe the texters who write a whole paragraph’s worth are the same people who tend to use a lot of hand gestures when talking.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t really find out a lot of information about why and how exactly texting etiquette came to be and is what it is. But from what little I know about human psychology and sociology, and listening to my classmates, I can make a few guesses. I know that people, for some reasons, have certain expectations about how others should behave and respond to certain things, which is why texting has its own set of rules. I know that people don’t like feeling patronized, or unappreciated, or like they’re just not worth it, which is why they don’t like it when others reply to their texts with “k” or something else short and unresponsive. I know that things you can discern easily in verbal conversations—like tone and pitch and double meanings—are harder to tell when texting, which is why emojis and other symbols are used to make the meaning clear.
But I don’t know a lot. I have a lot working against me when it comes to understanding these sorts of things, and I haven’t attended enough psych classes to have the knowledge that everyone around me always seems to expect. I’m also not as aware of subtle differences and nuances as it seems most other people are. For example, in this tumblr post, the user mentions how for them, “lol okay” and “okay lol” sound very different to them. Simply changing the order of two words can have such an effect on one’s interpretation of the meaning behind them. I guess one is supposed to seem like someone agreeing with something funny while the other is more sarcastic, but to me they both have the potential to sound either agreeing or sarcastic. I can’t really tell the difference. Maybe that’s part of why understanding all this texting etiquette is a bit of a struggle for me.