March 3, 2007
Non-verbal cues such as facial expressions are incredibly important in our everyday interaction with others. As mentioned in the entry regarding information influence, we do not have the person we are communicating with in front of us. In many ways communication over the internet lacks a mechanism by which one can express emotion, which relies heavily on non-verbal cues. Those who are more articulate in their writing have less of a problem here, but a large portion of internet users rely on other ways of conveying emotion instead of text.
One could hardly discuss this topic without mentioning the ‘smiley’ or happy face symbol. Since the beginnings of lay user internet communication, this symbol has evolved immensely. With some chat services it’s possible to convey everything from hunger to frustration however this is not without its own faults. Because the emotions or feelings we are trying to conveyed a reduced to a mere symbol, much of the user’s intent will be lost and there also exists much more room for misinterpretation by someone else. Does the smiley convey happiness? Is it ironic or sarcastic? To encode and decode non-verbal expression over the internet becomes a challenge in some situations.
Update: For related research see PsyBlog