Lost in Textlation

I have had a cell phone for 8 years now.  Throughout that time I have sent a plethora of texts with few responses. If you take out the texts from my parents and the “sorry I thought this was the other Julia” texts, you are left with a lot of awkward “hahahaha what?”.


In MUCH contrast to real life, over text I will often make a joke or a witty (but SUPER adorable) comment and receive a less than enthusiastic response.  I like to blame this on the fact that a lot of my charm, charisma, humor, attractiveness, self-worth, and overall killer personality is lost through the screen.  Without the help of inflection or the classic, but ever so subtle, im-just-kidding-with-you wink, it is often hard to read the true meaning of written text.


Generally Speaking 

This is of course not a new issue.  Written word has always carried a large responsibility. It allows itself to be interpreted however the reader choses. Although this problem is not original, it has more recently gotten out of hand. More people are communicating through text, and more specifically a computer screen, than ever before. With this influx and change in the way we communicate, we are no longer relying on the sound of someone’s voice or facial expression, but we are deciding whether someone is serious based on the emoji, or for all the hip people out there: Bitmoji, they use. This disconnect from actual human emotion, is one of the biggest issues with technology.

In class a couple weeks ago we talked about Justine Sacco and her tweet heard around the world. Sacco was able to show us that there truly is such thing as bad publicity. At first glance, the tweet was nothing short of insensitive and riddled with racism. Through explanation the tweet is still insensitive and riddled with racism, but Sacco tries to explain that it was all a big misunderstanding and a result of misinterpretation. Whether or not this claim was true or it was just said to (try) save her ass, the issue with digital communication is still present.

On a More Personal Level 

When I was in fifth grade, my teacher told us there were two important rules that we should remember now that we are in our last leg of elementary school.

  • Deodorant is no longer a cute “grown-up” thing to occasionally use, it is an absolute necessity.
  • Every thought need not be spoken

Mr. Hoye’s second rule has always resonated with me (I guess the first one has too).  We, as a society, have become more digital and the basic rules we live by should reflect this: Every thought need not be spoken, and most certainly not tweeted.  The increased amount of misinterpretation in  digital communication is not just limited to the media.  This miscommunication also happens on a more personal level.  In a Huffington Post article, relationship guru: Randi Gunther talks about the negative effects texting and social media have on the modern day relationship.  Throughout the article she emphasizes the lack of emotion and understanding people have when communicating through written word.

The argument is often made that texting and other forms of digital communication are beneficial because they help to stay in frequent contact with a loved one.  Although this point holds some merit, Gunther disagrees:

“When it comes to intimate, deeply emotional communication, texting breaks down. Using just words, pictures, emoticons, or even Face Time skyping cannot adequately communicate the entirety of the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual information that couples need to accurately experience each other’s presence. Only face-to-face proximity can allow them to experience touch, rhythm, voice intonations, body language, and facial expressions. Without them, texting can be woefully inadequate.” (Gunther) 

The more we talk about AI in class the more important this whole emotional aspect becomes.  Artificial intelligence is becoming better and more efficient in the majority of our jobs and day to day activities, but what AI cannot do is feel.  Not to get all emotional, but we should be!


This post was not written in protest of texting, tweeting, or any other sort of social media.  I just wanted to prove the point that no matter how computerized and technologically progressive we become nothing can and should replace human emotion.







  1. Great post, Julia! I completely agree that it is so hard to retrieve the meaning from text and it has become super important to mind what you put. It is crazy that we live in a society where emjois and bitmojis have become important ways to convey our emotions in order to make sure someone doesn’t misinterpret our message. I’m very guilty of doing this myself haha

  2. emmaelennon · ·

    I think a lot about how much is lost in translation via text — especially when getting to know someone for the first time, whether it be a friend or potential date. It can change our perception of that person so much, and oftentimes their online/text personas don’t always align with their real-life personalities. Like you said, the slipperiness of language is nothing new — but the speed at which exchanges occur now makes this issue more everyday. It’s also interesting to think about how texting has affected language as a whole; when I worked in education, many students would use text abbreviations and lingo in their papers — should this be allowed?

  3. Sheritta Coleburn · ·

    I agree,” nothing can and should replace human emotion” Emotions are compelling and important in relationships. I am very interested in how AI development will be taking place and how emotions will be integrated. I have mistaken certain text messages from my family or friends and vice versa. Some people might not understand that I am joking unless I add “lol,” face to face interaction and communication id depleting slowly. Younger generations are becoming more familiar with technology and are around it much often.

  4. Nice post! The digitization of human interactions has certainly masked the true intentions of communication and it can be very problematic in certain communities. I’m not sure how familiar you are with Reddit but many of the communities there have a “reverse logic” when it comes to commenting on a thread. You’re expected to be witty in response and if you aren’t, you come off too strong and end up becoming a “copy pasta” or a “meme”. I think all we can really do now is be cognizant of the people we would emotionally connect with and take the effort to sustain those human relationships. Everything else we have technology to use as communication .

  5. mattwardbc · ·

    Awesome Post Julia! Snapchat has definitely revolutionized the way we can share exactly how we are feeling at that moment through pictures and video, especially with a limited disappearing lifespan. GIFs have definitely had another massive impact on texting and added another way to explain exactly how you feel.

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