Friday, August 14, 2015

Are You Laughing Wrong?

Online communication's biggest problem is the lack of nonverbal communication. We can't tell what people are thinking or feeling just based on reading their words.

Take that last paragraph. Was I happy? Sad? Shouting at the top of my lungs? So relaxed that I was nearly comatose? Or maybe I did it in a Bobcat Goldthwait voice (which would be awesome, except I'm no longer allowed to do it in the house).

According to communication scholars — yes, that's a real thing; I used to be one — as much as 93 percent of our regular face-to-face communication is nonverbal. That includes the facial expressions, gestures, the way we stand, movement of our eyes, and even the tone, pitch, and volume of our voice.

Even with the word "hi," we can guess how the other person feels based on how they sounded — mad, sad, glad, or afraid. That's the 93 percent nonverbals in action. Without them, we miss a lot.

If your least favorite person says "yeah, right" in that sneering, smarmy way you hate, you know they're being sarcastic and should be pushed into traffic. Even though those two words are positive, the other person said them in such a way that — you're not paying attention, are you? You've just spent the last few seconds imagining them getting nailed by a Cadillac Escalade.

Since we rely so much on nonverbals in our face-to-face communication, imagine all the problems with online communication. Now we only have that seven percent. That's where a lot of communication breaks down.

In the olden days, back in the '90s, we used emoticons to convey our feelings, the little :-) and :-( symbols that looked like happy faces and frowny faces if you tilted your head 90 degrees.

(On a quick side note, this is the first time I've ever actually used an emoticon in a newspaper column. It's also the first and last time as an adult that I'll ever say "frowny face.")

But as online communication has grown, matured, and simplified, we're now finding different ways to express our emotions. One of the most important ways is through e-laughter, the way we show people online that we thought something is funny.

Recently Facebook studied the online laughter of their users, breaking down the styles we use, based on age, gender, and even geographic location. They looked at instances of haha, hehe, lol, and the use of emojis (the little cartoon symbols favored by 12-year-old girls). Here's a few of their key findings:

We don't laugh too much or too little. 15 percent of our posts contain some kind of laughter. Also, 46 percent of the people post at least one e-laugh per week. Everyone else is a Donald Trump fan.

Haha is the most common e-laugh, at 51.4 percent. Emojis are second at 33.7 percent, followed by hehe (13.1), and lol (1.9)

I have to dispute this last stat, because clearly Facebook's data researchers were not looking at my Facebook feed. I have plenty of people who overuse and abuse lol so much that I have grown to hate it.

Originally an abbreviation for "laugh out loud," it has become a word in its own right. People will even use it conversationally.

"Kevin said something so funny today, I lol-ed. Hashtag-awesome. Hashtag-I nearly peed. Hashtag-I really — hey, quit shoving! AAAH, ESCALADE!"

However, I'm not sure if the word rhymes with "roll" or "fall." I need to know so I can shout "STOP SAYING LOL!!" without embarrassing myself in public.

But I know what it's not. Lol is not punctuation. It shouldn't end a sentence like a period.

"And I said, 'that's no duck, that's my wife lol'"

(It's killing me that there's not a real period in that last sentence.)

Putting lol at the end of a joke is also verboten. Either a joke is funny, or it's not. It's like saying, "get it? The bartender thought the duck was his wife!"

Furthermore, "lolololol" doesn't not mean something is extra funny. You're saying "I laughed out loud, out loud, out loud, out loud."

Also, Lolo Jones will not marry Hope Solo and become Lolo Solo. Dammit.

Men use "haha" and "hehe" more than women. Conversely, a lot more women use emojis. Grown men shouldn't use emojis. I'm also not comfortable with hehe, although you could argue it has "he" in it. Also, no one should say "tee hee."

Ha and he are building blocks for longer versions of that word. If something is a little more funny, you might see hahahaha or hehehehe. In fact, Facebook's study found that "haha/hehe" and "hahaha/hehehe" were the most commonly used versions.

I'm sticking with the old school when it comes to my e-laughs. I won't use emojis, say "lol," or giggle like a teenager with "hehe." I'm sticking with the original emoticons. I'll use :-) for happy, ;-) for being sarcastic, and :-D for laughing out loud.

Because if you take my :-), I'll become >:-{


Photo credit: Sham Hardy (Flickr, Creative Commons)

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

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