Day Thirty-Three: Verbal Emoji

In a mask, this looks cranky af, but it’s actually quizzical.

Being out on the trails carries, realistically, a very small chance of infection. But I wear the damned mask anyway, in great part to normalize it. The more people see others masked, the more they will do it themselves at the grocery stores and in other, higher-risk venues. I also want to normalize it for myself, as just something I put on when I am going out. And I don’t want to scare people with my seasonal allergies. I know I’m not sniffling because I’m sick, but nobody else does.

But going around masked causes a new set of problems. Yesterday, I was on a trail near my house that has become by unspoken and somewhat sneaky consent a sort of informal off-leash dog area for the neighborhood. I was running, and Dog stays on the leash when we run. I can’t keep track of her and my footing and run up hills all at the same time. But there was another dog who was having a free-range moment. She ran right up to us.

I have learned the hard way that when we encounter a loose dog when Dog is leashed, it’s best to stop and let the sniffing happen. Pulling Dog along just forces her to retreat without following dog etiquette, and often leads to unpleasantness. So I stopped and waited for this other dog’s humans to come along. When they were still some distance back, the guy started calling his dog, who totally ignored him. I smiled as he came closer and said “I see she’s super obedient, like my dog.”

This was a cheerful social gambit, not really funny, but lighthearted, and typical on the trails. I got nothing back. The guy wasn’t masked, so I could see that he didn’t smile. He may as well not have heard me.

It didn’t occur to me until after we had all passed each other that he couldn’t have seen that I was smiling. He could have interpreted my comment as sarcastic. I thought I infused a smile into my voice, but it might have been rough from breathing hard. He really had no way of knowing I wasn’t trying to be snarky.

Of course, maybe he was in a mood, or just isn’t a friendly type. But it would be a lot easier to tell if I knew what kind of signal I was giving out.

If we’re going to do this mask thing for real, we’re gonna need some face to face emoji. The technology is out there for a t-shirt or hat with LED light emoji, but that has never seemed very washable to me. I think we need something that we don’t have to replace part of our wardrobe to use.

That leaves us two obvious options. We can make some hand signs, maybe borrow from American Sign Language, although facial expression is a big part of signing, too. Or we can insert our smiley faces like a verbal tic. “I see your dog is super obedient, like mine, LOL face.”

This can have all kinds of applications. When you see family you are socially distant with: “it’s great to see you, Dad, hugging face.” Creeps who can’t leer effectively will have to say “eggplant” or “peach.” When someone gets a little too close in line, you’ll say “great social distancing, there, side eye.” After you get a great call from your doctor, you’ll tell your roommate “I tested negative, cold sweat relief face.”

If masks actually catch on in a big way, it will be interesting to see how face to face communication evolves. Maybe we won’t all develop a verbal emoji tic or start hashtagging everything à la John Oliver, but we’ll find some way to convey nuance, possibly by exaggerating our vocal tones or waggling the hell out of our eyebrows.

Or maybe by something completely different.

Signing off. Take Care and Take Care of one another.

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