For all that I love emojis I have a blind spot for the difference between emoji and emoticon.

Just to ensure we are all on the same page (and remind me when I inevitably forget again):-

This is an emoji
This is an emoticon

I use emojis a lot in informal written communication. They are great for conveying tone. Everyone who has ever messaged anyone will have had problems with the communication of tone (and if you think you haven’t, then you just don’t know it yet).

One of the things I like most about writing poetry, is that the meaning is in the eye of the beholder. Whatever I write, it is down to the reader to choose what it means to them. It’s a pure and honest communication that doesn’t recognise mistakes. There can’t be mistakes, because your interpretation is all that matters.

The problem with most communication, is that that is not what is wanted. It is about working out what the other person meant.

Non-autistic people take for granted their innate skill to take in information beyond language, and use that to inform meaning. It’s one of the reasons us autistics can be accused of being too literal; we are relying on the words and our own conscious analysis of body-language, tone and expression, in milliseconds before a response is required, we sometimes fall back on what it is you have actually said, and miss the rest.

Responding correctly is simply getting close to what was meant by the person, and responding to that.

Communication is vast and enormously complicated. Mistakes are a must. If I say I went to a cafe and sat at a table to eat my sandwich, it is really unlikely that anyone will correctly picture the right room, the right table, the right sandwich, the right slant to my posture, the right clothing, the right time of day etc. but that’s okay. Most detail isn’t relevant to the story, so we don’t need to get bogged down in it, but it’s worth remembering that for everyone, most communication is littered with mistakes.

I remember the first time someone took offence at a message I had sent. I had made the mistake of thinking they knew me well enough to get my sarcasm when written down. I hadn’t considered that people might listen to your voice, but they read in theirs.

Writing is a very different method of communication to chatting, and I can see why so many of us autistics prefer it. Writing gives us a level playing field. All those things we cannot do, are no longer important. They fall to the wayside, useless and unnecessary.

The only rule is to remember that the other person’s interpretation is all that matters to them.

We see it time and time again on sites like Twitter; somebody writes something seemingly innocuous, someone else responds venomously with accusations of nastiness, the original person says that that wasn’t what they meant at all, and it all devolves into fury and hurt.

To a certain extent you have to let go of your words as you write them. They’re not yours anymore once they’re set down. Wave them goodbye and wish them well. Hope that they are taken in the spirit they were written, but accept that you cannot control that.

Emojis can be useful for conveying tone. My major problem is that I often apply my own meanings to them (🤧 haunted sinuses are a terrible affliction), but even that helps me convey a sense of me. In one face I can tell you the emotion you are supposed to be reading these words with. This is levity 😊. This is awful 😱. This is hilarious 😄. This is daft 😉.

I know my more personal interpretations of; this is staring in through your window 🤡, this is violent murder 💇🏻‍♀️, and this is a three headed beast of doom 👩‍👧‍👧, are less helpful if I need to rely on your version of them, but even my everyday uses are my own interpretations, they just hopefully match a little closer to yours.

Communication is a skill, and if there’s one thing I’ve spent a lifetime doing, it’s trying to learn how to communicate successfully. I may still be perfecting my in-person techniques, but where we start on equal footing, I can rival anyone.

Many autistic people communicate more online than anywhere else. There is an idea that this sort of communication isn’t as valuable as in-person social connections, but that’s simply not true, and is a damaging view for those of us who need social engagement that doesn’t highlight our difficulties.

There are rules for all communication, and when you’re not used to learning those rules, you are liable to make mistakes. That can make it feel like a less effective connection, when really the problem is that you cannot rely on your inbuilt system to check for meaning, you have to do it consciously, like us.

I have a particular penchant for emojis when my words aren’t coming to me as easily. If ever I have responded to you with 💐, then you have had my thanks without words. I hope that was communicated successfully.


14 thoughts on “Mistakes

  1. Email and the Internet have their advantages, since I feel I can write better than I talk (of course, when reading to myself, I never get the words wrong). Oral language is somewhat trickier, because either the person I’m talking to can’t understand me, or I do something I like to call “fuddling up my mucking words” (change the letters around and you’ll see what I mean). No wonder I prefer to listen more than I talk. You learn more that way. Or so I have discovered.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. an emoji is nothing more than a visual representation of words. As such it is just as prone to interpretation and misinterpretation as words are. Emoji’s tacitly assume that you know the ‘language game’ of the sender.
    On the plus side, they save on typing.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. True, there is still interpretation involved (you’ll never escape that completely), but they are a useful shorthand for conveying something that social convention states, you do not point out otherwise.


  3. It hadn’t occurred to me that written language levels the playing field. It seems then normal people might get to experience a little bit of what communication is like for others like myself. (Minus the effect of years of being really self conscious about it and going overboard in an attempt to not be misunderstood.)

    Every once in a while, I try to figure out what the different emojis mean, but to no avail. I can only recognize the smiley one and can never find a frowny one, if it exists. I figured the different smiley ones were just available for variance, not that they each were different emotions. The one you listed as “awful” I thought indicated head trauma.

    When I was a kid, before the days of the internet, I used to wish there was a multi-sided hacky sack with a smiley face, frowny face, and other emotion words printed on it that I and others could carry around and just hold up when speaking. I stiIl wish that…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That sounds like a brilliant idea. It would be so nice if we had completely recognisable ways of expressing emotion, that didn’t rely on complicated deciphering.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I love your insight and explanation of the complexity of communication. Writing is something that is such a peaceful way to relieve ones most inner thoughts. But you’re so right, everything is left up to the interpretation of the individual reading. I have a hard time with this concept. I do worry about how my words will be interpreted. I don’t struggle with autism, but I struggle with transparency. I have a hard time letting my words go and be out there. Mostly because they are so raw.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It can be really hard to open yourself up. I always try to write as though no one will ever read it, and then make a decision about whether I will put it out as it is, or edit it, or keep it to myself once I have finished.

      And thank you 💐

      Liked by 1 person

  5. ‘Emoji’ is a Japanese word that has passed into English. The first know emoji was an image of a baseball that showed up in a Japanese newspaper next to baseball stats. ‘Emoticon’ is an English word meaning Emotion-Icon.

    Liked by 1 person

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