Lost in Translation

Lost in Translation

How Social Media Drives Us Apart

Ismail Abu Hayyeh

Everything is ambiguous.

Our own interpretations render words inoperative. Language goes beyond giving words bizarre meanings, because how we say what we want to say gives words their true meanings. We mean what we say, but its hard to mean what we write because we give no indication to what we really desire.

The first thing most of us do when we meet someone is ask for their phone number. Well… we used to. Now, the first thing we do is add that person to Snapchat, follow their Instagram and Twitter, and friend them of Facebook. Maybe, if you still need it for some odd reason, you’ll get their phone number a few weeks later. Social media has made other forms of communication obsolete. Every major social networking platform has a way to send messages to one another and in groups, which is a godsend for those who don’t have phones to call people because it allows for wireless communication no matter where we are.

A picture is worth a thousand words, but it really isn’t. Not today, anyways. Now that we can send and say what we want, we’ve lost that ability to communicate, not just through simple messages—especially since we’ve abbreviated a healthy portion of the English language to acronyms and emojis—but through emotion. And that’s a key component in all communication, because sending that girl you like a message that says “lol” at 2 a.m. is ambiguous.

But why is it important to show emotion when communicating?

Because it demonstrates the true meaning of what you’re trying to say. What sounds more powerful? Saying “I love you” over a text, or saying “I love you” in person? Break it down: in the former, you’re staring at a blank screen, maybe with a smile on your face, and there’s certainly a light in your eyes and a burning sensation in your chest. But in the latter, when you can see the other person’s own reactions to what you’re saying—their facial expressions, the tone of their voice, their body language, the way their hands fidget or the way they bite their lips—the moment becomes much more intimate.

And that instant escalates to those moments where you can show people how you feel.

The connotations of what you want to express become self-evident. They can hear what you say and understand that you’re trying to say something else. With the emotion in their voices, or their eyes, or their hands, you truly understand how a person feels and what they are actually trying to tell you. The absence of those nuances creates ambiguity, and that opacity is what creates confusion.

And that’s why social media is driving us apart.

Because it’s extremely difficult to express emotions online. We can post angry tweets, but without the emotion, someone can misinterpret what you’re saying and understand it as something totally different. If I said, for example, “I can’t believe Miranda would be so cruel to Tiffany,” someone can interpret that as shock, or disbelief, because of the presence of the word “believe”. Or maybe they’ll think I pity Tiffany for her situation. But what they don’t see is that I am legitimately angry over the condition, because they can’t see my hands being balled into fists and my face turning red and my eyebrows joining together and hear my teeth grinding.

But the reason why expressing emotion is so difficult isn’t because it’s impossible to do it online, but because spoken word is an entirely different dialect than what we write, and when we text or send a message, the translations become skewed.

Is it fair to blame everything wrong with today’s communication on social media? Of course not, because there is not one person or platform to blame. But can we argue that we’ve become less intimate than we were, say, thirty years ago?

Sure. It’s undeniable that we’re not communicating in the same ways as we were three decades ago; the mediums that were supposed to bring us together have driven us further apart. But it does have a role in society. Even though we've become divided, we still come together. I'm not saying we should try to limit our use of social media. Oddly, I’m advocating its use. Yes, we've lost that emotional contact that's necessary for human interactions, but that doesn't mean that social media doesn't play a role in trying to create those feelings.

I met my best friend online. We lived three blocks from each other and never knew we existed, but we still became close friends through social media. It astounds me, not that we’ve maintained our friendship, but that it was even possible for it to grow behind a screen and between three blocks and two different school districts and drastically different schedules.

And yes. There was no emotion. At first.

But as time passed on, we began to understand each other not through the nuances of our behaviors but in the subtleties of our texts. Ellipses usually indicated something was wrong. Strings of ten messages signaled excitement. Capital sentences pointed to anger. “Lol” really meant “laughing out loud.” When we said “smh,” we were actually shaking our heads.

We flourished while we were quarantined behind screens, communicating apathetically but understanding each other as if we were actually speaking to each other. There was emotion, it was just lost in translation.

And we created a new language to express what we really meant through the subtleties of grammar and the apathetic acronyms and emojis we so despised, because the words we wanted to share were part of no language at all.

Does social media actually eradicate the emotion in conversation? No. It just makes it much more difficult to express yourself as you would in person. And because no one really has the time--or the effort--to be as tangible online as they are in the real world, the emotions are lost, and now, words no longer have meaning. Its not a consequence of anything purposeful, but a novelty of everything accidental.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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