Saturday, January 8, 2011

Body Language, Internet and Texting!

Body language speaks volumes, and I know because I come from an Italian family and, as everyone knows, Italians are known for using hand gestures or "talking with their hands." I couldn't help but notice that when my Italian grandparents argued, disagreed, or were expressing affection, they were a lot more animated. I always knew what they were saying and how they were feeling from their body language. No translation was necessary when my grandfather ate something he thought was delicious. He would make a hand gesture that resembles a "pistol" and put the pointer finger to his cheek rotating the thumb up and down a couple of times. If he pointed that "pistol" gesture outward and rotated it back and forth, it meant there isn't any more of something, such as pasta. If he asked me if I wanted a drink, he would make a "thumbs up" gesture and the thumb would be directed towards his mouth in two or three fast motions. So I learned at a very early age about using nonverbal signs in order to communicate.

Body language and gestures are an important part of communication and sometimes even reveal things about us that we are reluctant to say. Without body language there might be a lack of communication or a lot more miscommunication of messages, feelings and moods. You might have to use more words to help people understand how you are feeling. Facial expressions often tell a lot about how a person feels without them having to say a word. Some of the obvious feelings that are often conveyed this way are: sadness, happiness, fear, anger, and surprise. Another way we communicate without words is through our eyes. Direct eye contact is a good way to show interest in someone or what they are saying. It may be a sign of self confidence or good self esteem. If a person looks down or away when you ask them a question, it may be sign that he is lying, ashamed or guilty of something. However, someone who finds it hard to maintain direct eye contact may be also be shy or lack self confidence. A person’s body posture is also revealing. The way you sit or stand may say things about a person such as whether he is tense or relaxed or whether he is confident or insecure. Hand gestures are often used to express or emphasize how we feel. In our culture, everyone is familiar with expressing extreme anger by giving someone the middle finger or using clenched fists, wringing of the hands to express nervousness or worry, twiddling one’s thumbs when one is bored, and giving a thumbs up or high five to celebrate an event. What would happen if suddenly all nonverbal means of communicating were gone?

There is a large community of people who cannot use any form of body language in their communication. I am referring to the online community. Everyday people all over the world have conversations in chat rooms and instant messages where words are the only means of communication. Even on the telephone you can hear a person’s tone of voice and detect some emotion. But online there is no visual or auditory way of knowing how a person feels when he makes a statement. During internet communication and even cell phone texts, messages are being sent without the accompanying body language that exists with normal, face-to-face conversation. These forms of communication are rapidly becoming more popular. Body language is used to emphasize, repeat, make clear, and even add information to a statement or it can even be used as a substitute for words. Without body language, a critical part of communication is missing. For example, if a person types the message, “I hate my job!” we don’t know if that is true because we can’t see if the person is winking, is laughing, is frowning, or is angry. It would require many more words of explanation to really know what they mean. Another example of the importance of body language is when you are trying to tell someone bad news, such as they have body odor. In face-to-face conversation they can see by your body language how concerned you are about hurting their feelings and how difficult it may be for you to get the words out. Online all they see is the dreaded message and not how you agonized over saying it. That would make a big difference on how the message is received. A face-to-face conversation should have a better outcome. An online conversation may lead to greater hurt feelings because of the lack of emotion and cold delivery of the message. In fact, the online community misses body language so much that they have tried to compensate for the lack of it with emoticons such as J and various acronyms such as LOL (Laughing Out Loud) to express their feelings and moods.

Overall, the absence of body language would definitely hurt the human race’s ability to communicate in an effective and meaningful way. When our words are accompanied by body language their message is greatly enhanced and better understood. Body language, even without being accompanied by words, can speak volumes.

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