I am currently writing a book entitled "Reality is Social" which is inspired by many of my experiences and observations as a psychotherapist, philosopher, and an academic ( a person with a passion and commitment to education and knowledge). I am influenced by the way in which reality is more often a matter of belief (or beliefs) than an expression of the facts. Those situations in which beliefs exist and are at odds with the facts and the truth will be an important source of insight and exploration in this book. I would argue that we are all social creatures and as such our reality is socially constructed. We do not exist on a metaphorical island. If we did our reality might be restricted to the conversations and thoughts that we have with ourselves. We would engage in self-talk if we had no other human contact. Such a person who spent an extended period of time on an island by himself might appear irrational and bizarre if he was observed upon return to the real world where he would interact with other people.
Among the normal experiences of people who live in the world and within a society, we interact with others and use language to do so - body language, spoken language, and written language. In this use of language we are communicating always if we are in contact with others. In the current information age, we often substitute written communication for spoken communication. We post information on social media platforms, engage in chat conversations, online debates, and email correspondence. In such conversations, missing is body language or tone of voice to use for gaining insight into how our communication has been received.
We have to wait for a written response of some sort and do our best to read into it the proper information about how our message has been received. Even in that context, there are social conventions that are being adopted to provide additional information about our feelings and the tone of our conversation. We might use LOL - laughing out loud - to point out that we are speaking in a lighthearted fashion and we want the other person to laugh with us. I know that I have seen various emojis used in online discussions and the meaning of the emoji is not available to me. Having my mouse cursor over the image doesn't tell me anything. I am stuck wondering what it means and what is the other person trying to communicate in this chat conversation? Instead of talking about the substance of what was said, I am forced to have to figure out an emoji reaction or to understand how the emojis are adding to the substance of what the other person wanted to convey. We could say that the emojis and the short acronyms are metalanguage or meta-communication.
How common is it that people do not understand this metalanguage? Have you ever wondered what the other person was saying or expressing but were afraid to ask? Have you misunderstood what the other one was expressing with his or her emoji or acronym? If it was something as simple as LOL we probably get that. However, it's easy to pull up available emoji or gifs that can be inserted into a dialogue on our computers and smartphones and be overwhelmed at the sheer number of options. This presents an obvious potential for miscommunication. This then results in plenty of emotions on both sides of the dialog. We might assume or expect the other person to understand or "take a hint" as it were. We also hold back much of our words and feelings for fear of upsetting the other person.