Social media is the pillar of communication in our society.
However, I’ve noticed that there’s a problem in how people my age are interpreting online communication. Specifically on a platform such as Snapchat.
You think you know what your friend is trying to tell you on Snapchat. You also think they understand what you’re trying to tell them. You’re wrong.
This problem has led to confusion and miscommunication. It is because we’ve tried to implement the concept of reading people in real life into the interactions we conduct on Snapchat and related platforms. It has created an idea of ‘digital body language’ that we instinctively try to read in others. However, reading someone online is much harder than reading someone in real life. The looming question is whether someone’s online actions communicate anything at all. You may just be reading into nothing.
Though I don’t believe the problem is exclusive to Snapchat, I do believe it is where the problem is the strongest.
For instance the addition of the “My Story” feature came with the ability to see the list of people who have viewed what you’ve posted to all of your Snapchat friends. Simply viewing someone’s story, in this context, is an action that could be interpreted as an online social cue. It is potentially sending a message – a message that maybe says the viewer gives a shit about you or thinks your selfie game is on point. Conversely, those that do not watch your story are potentially sending a message that says you are not interesting and they hate you and your stupid cat.
Alright, in all reality I don’t know if it was the intention of the Snapchat developers to make you guess why someone would choose whether to watch your story. Either way people have taken features like this to perhaps represent something more than what was intended.
I’ll admit that I am guilty of wondering why someone I haven’t spoken to in a while still watches my Snapchat stories or gives me a ‘like’. This is especially true for me when it’s a person that I’ve had a minor falling-out with. What am I supposed to think? Maybe they are just tapping through their feed to clean it up. Maybe they look at all stories out of habit. Maybe they are keeping tabs on me. Maybe they still care about what I’m up to. Maybe that ‘like’ they gave me was ironic.
It has made me ask myself “is that supposed to mean something, or nah?” This same question arises when someone doesn’t smash that ‘like’ button or tap that Snap story.
I don’t know the answer. You don’t know the answer. The point is there is no answer. With too many hypothetical situations, I can neither confirm nor deny what anyone’s actions mean. Trying to decipher meaning and intent from “digital body language” is about as easy as paying off college loans and about as useful as a coffee shop without free Wi-Fi.
That certainly has not stopped others, though.
A friend of mine once told me if there was a girl he was interested in he would specifically avoid watching her story on Snapchat. In his mind watching her five-second videos would show too much interest, which is something you are just not supposed to do in today’s age of communication. As someone more hip than I would say, “you gotta keep things lowkey, fam.”
In that scenario he confided in me that there was, indeed, intent behind his actions on Snapchat. Sure, he was just one person whose behavior I had solid evidence for, but it made me wonder how many other people pulled similar shit. Hence one of the reasons for writing this column.
Now, did his intended message get across? I literally could not tell you. Maybe that girl picked up on it and stopped watching his Snap stories and stopped paying attention to his social media too. Or maybe she didn’t think anything of it. Maybe they are both still struggling to read each other’s digital body language.
Ultimately what I’m trying to get across is that the actions of others on Snapchat can have both real and imagined intentions.
We personally may have a true intention behind a specific action on social media that we want a person to notice, but who is to say they get it? We may also try to interpret those actions when there is no intention behind it. Or maybe there is intent and we can either guess it right or be completely off the mark. It is all too messy and it is almost entirely the fault of people in our generation. Myself included.
Or perhaps I simply sound like another overly-opinionated college kid that is trying to seem smarter than they are. I could not deny that criticism as everything I have written are theories that I am still kicking around my head as I write this. Regardless, it seems to me that little gestures on Snapchat have been surrounded by enough ambiguity to warrant Mashable and Mic to publish articles about interpreting them. Even Facebook seems to have recognized its own ambiguity. There used to just be the ‘like’ button, but now there are five other reactions users can choose from. You know, to tell people how you really feel.
Take all that for what you will. Personally I think this adds more to the problem of miscommunication because people, being people, like to transform the meanings of things.
Let me know your thoughts. Or don’t let me know your thoughts. It doesn’t matter. Unless it really does matter. I don’t know. What are you saying? You’re not saying anything. Perhaps you’re saying everything? Nothing can say everything. Or nothing can say nothing. Anxiety can say a lot too, according to my therapist. Just kidding, I don’t have a therapist. Yes I do. It’s your fault. No it isn’t. But maybe it is.