Proximity without Intimacy

Since early this century technology has allowed us to have relationships over large distances without having to see or even speak to the person on the receiving end of our communications.

Our film poses the question:
If non-verbal communication adds nuance or richness of meaning that cannot be communicated by verbal elements alone, can the same achieved by symbolic substitutions and representations? 

The problem with remote relationships especially non-verbal ones is that you lose a lot of the subtleties of communication. You lose the laugh, the smile, the folded arms, the pause for effect and you lose all possibility of the exchange going further than basic communication.

Since this was first recognised as a problem people have attempted to substitute these missing elements of communication with short hand and symbols. This tradition began in the 1830’s with coded substitutes for emotions responses in morse code, for example - - . . . . . . - - meant ‘Love and Kisses’ where as . - - - . was a silent substitute for laughter. The need to know when something written is intended as humorous was further addressed in 1912 by Ambrose Pierce who proposed ‘\___/’ as a new punctuation mark, a snigger mark. It was further suggested - at a later date - that the length of the line should relate to the quality of the joke.

In a 1969 interview Vladimir Nabokov proposed that there should exist “a special typographical sign for a smile - some sort of concave mark, a supine round bracket”. It wasn't until the beginning of the next major development in communications and technology - computers and mobile phones - that this request was heeded. In 1982 Scott Fahlman posted on the Carnegie Mellon University intranet forum:

I propose that the following character sequence for joke markers:


Read it sideways. Actually, it is probably more economical to mark things that are NOT jokes, given current trends. For this, use:


The emoticon was born. There are now hundreds of variations on this proposed theme. We have icons representing everything from love to illness, from anger to embarrassment. The icons are now used to represent emotions and feelings across almost all electronic communications.

Some represent things visually:

b(~_^)d           thumbs up with a wink

Some are simple abbreviations:

lol                  laugh out loud

It is probably possible to communicate entirely without words using this series of symbols.

The modalities of online social interaction are much more limited than those of face-to-face social interaction, and provide no good way to convey nonverbal cues, which make up 93% of face-to-face interaction
— Kalra, A. and Karahalios, K. TextTone: Expressing Emotion Through Text

Collaborated with Carlo Bianchi, Jen Leary, Andrea Sallee, Patrick Swindell.