Even when I send a text, I’m compelled to spell out “great” rather than use the shortcut “gr8t.” After all, I’m not a teenager.
I correct auto-correct, use proper punctuation and follow grammatical rules. Only once in my life have I used an emoticon (and even then, it was more of an experiment).
On the other hand, I often find myself trying to decipher friends’ messages, full of auto-correct-words-gone-wrong and text abbreviations (many of which I need to Google to understand). This can be hilarious at times, but in a work context, it can lead to miscommunication, misunderstandings and just a general sense of unprofessionalism.
As communication has evolved (or devolved, as some might argue), we’ve started developing “digital personas.” When we text, for example, we adopt a certain persona, the way many of us adopt a different tone when we write an email versus the way we speak, according to Virginia Heffernan on Backchannel.
We might find emoticons perfectly acceptable in a text message (so the recipient understands we’re joking or being sarcastic), while we feel compelled to dress up and look professional if we’re on a videoconference.
But one of the greatest misconceptions about the digital world is that we’re different people online, says Ramona Pringle, an assistant professor at the RTA School of Media with Ryerson University. We might be behind a screen, but that’s really the only difference.
“The Internet is such that it allows people to craft an identity, depending on what the context is. But the truth is, we do this in the real world too — the person you are at school or at work is different from the person you are on weekends or with friends,” she says. “The personas we inhabit change based on context, and this is true as much in real life as it is online.”
It’s not so much that we have different personas when we use different forms of communication; rather, different platforms have different affordances for how they let us communicate. The length of a message, anonymity, avatars — these all impact how we communicate, she says, and which parts of ourselves get revealed.
“There’s always a danger for wrong impressions when we’re communicating — this is true online and off, but it seems to be exacerbated with digital communication,” says Pringle. Often this is because we aren’t capable of the same nuances that we’re capable of in real life, such as body language, facial expressions or sense of humour.
This, she says, speaks to the popularity of emojis. “Humans are complicated creatures. Everything we say and do is layered with some kind of goal, some form of emotion, and quite often the written word — which much of our digital communication comes down to — doesn’t account for that.”
While email isn’t going away (most people I know still receive hundreds of messages a day), there are many more forms of communication making their way into our workday. While many people I work with still use traditional email, some text me (for immediacy), while others prefer to video chat (for brainstorming sessions). Oftentimes, we’re using a combination of these.
Do IT departments need to consider this when deploying UC strategies? They may not be able to dictate whether or not an employee uses emoji, but digital personas could be a factor in deciding which forms of communication they choose to deploy — whether for internal communications or with partners, suppliers and customers.
A gaming company, for example, may be open to a different “persona” it presents to the world versus a financial services company, for example. It may seem a moot point, but it can make the difference between looking like a pro — or a teenager working out of their parents’ basement.