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A “haha” to soften the blow. An emoticon to cushion the pain. A little smile to disguise the disappointment.

The subtext in a text can be bewildering. I’ve seen relationships suffer under the weight of hidden meanings in the digital language. Even the most trusting of couples find themselves second-guessing a minute’s delay in their partner’s reply, or wondering why someone’s being extra sweet in a text.

I have friends who constantly end their text messages with a “haha”, even if there’s nothing funny in our conversations. Maybe this is in the hope of coming off to the other side as being invested in the conversation, thus, not being accused of being uninterested. Others end their messages with all sorts of emoticons, sending all sorts of confusing signals to the receiver.

Back in my university days, good girl friend of mine once found herself in a huge quarrel with her boyfriend after she failed to reply to him with a smiley face. The guy thought my friend was being cold and immediately assumed she was covering something up. Before my friend could even explain we were busy with our thesis, the guy called and started a litany of complaints over the emoticon – or lack thereof. He even went on to accuse she was with someone else. Talk about overreacting (no, it was not overprotective at all, more like overbearing).

I personally have an aversion towards emoticons. They seem better at hiding feelings rather than capturing the present emotional state of a person. Like words, they usually fail at capturing the essence of the indescribable, the essence of feelings mixed with the situation, and bordered by the context. It’s already hard to tell a person’s true emotional taste by SMS alone. And then you add bodiless, generalized facial expressions, and you’re bound to be entangled in misinterpretation. Sadly, these days we’re taking pride in how good we can decode the true sentiment in a text message

While technology simplifies, it has certainly brought new complications with it. Face to face conversations allow people to better gauge one another’s emotional state through body language – a wrinkled forehead could be a sign of worry, persistent foot shaking could be impatience. Removing the visual aspect of communication and reducing it to a few lines of digital words usually chip away the authenticity of our words, often making it easier to lie.

Of course, there are newer technologies which aim to at least imitate real life, personal conversations. Mobile phones are now equipped with video call features, and programs, such as Skype break geographical boundaries and overcome multiple time zones by simply having a webcam and decent Internet connection. This is the closest thing one can get to real-life interaction.

Almost there, but not quite.

In spite of advances in communications technology, one cannot help but feel things are lost in the static, or Internet protocol. Bodies separated by monitors and screens, subtext will continue to find a way to seep in between the phone lines and telecom operators. While you can now see who you are talking to, the crucial sense of touch, and even that of smell, remains disconnected. Science is looking for ways to better decipher the subtext in mobile communications, but I highly doubt it will ever be enough.

“Conversation, like certain portions of the anatomy, always runs more smoothly when lubricated.”

― Marquis de Sade

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