Gen Z in its natural online habitat can seem intimidating and a little baffling. I would know, despite technically being a part of this generation, I spend more time than I’d like to admit deciphering it. If you’ve ever had to google what “afaik” or “iykyk” means then this is for you. Texting etiquette is central to Gen Z culture, highlighting how we’ve expertly moulded language to create communities and best express ourselves online.
I’m risking my fragile membership by undermining the very first principle of Gen Z communication: don’t explain it. Two things happen then: first, it’s not as funny anymore and second, it may open up the community to potential detractors. Remember the wildfire term “on fleek”? as soon as it spread too far like on the Ellen Show, it immediately lost all its charm.
Although there is no consensus on Gen Z’s age, suffice it to say that we don’t remember a time before the Internet. Most are already tired of Facebook after having joined back in school, instead migrating over to Instagram—away from constantly being tagged in embarrassing family photos. That said, we do simultaneously possess an instinctive understanding of this ‘culture’ while being unable to explain it to anyone or ourselves. So, here’s to trying:
Let’s start simple: texting or calling?
Easy, texting. Of course, as with anything, there are outliers who would disagree. However, it’s common practice to watch the phone ring into oblivion and then immediately text: “hey, you called?”.
Texting unfolds throughout a busy day of multi-tasking. We text in windows between or during online classes, while taking a break or just in bed procrastinating sleep. That’s not to say we’re anti-calling, it just costs us an exponentially larger amount of effort given our waning attention spans. Texting is great for a quick dopamine fix and we’ve been wired to love the ring of a notification ever since some got their first smartphones at 12. When we call, we are required to focus on nothing but the person’s voice. In other words, it’s a big deal. So if a gen z-er in your life offers to call, take it as the ego-boost that it is.
Now that we’re talking texting, what are some dos and don’ts?
Seen-zoning is a thing, and possibly a social weapon of war so, beware.
This one is difficult to pin down, sometimes it’s intentional and sometimes it simply isn’t. In budding romantic relationships, leaving someone ‘on read’ is often a carefully cultivated art of courtship. For example: “I want to text them, but I don’t want them to think they’re all I think about. Wait, are they all I think about?” which can then spiral into dangerous overthinking territory. This rationale prompts some of us to leave texts unattended for a pre-selected range of hours.
In new friendships, it can become a matter of not seeming too eager but eager enough. In unwanted interactions or advances, it’s often a retreat onto safer shores. Sometimes, it’s just thinking that you already replied or just not having the energy to tend to all your burgeoning messages. It’s safe to say that no one has those blue-ticks switched on anymore.
Ghosting, on the other hand, is a harsh reality when seen-zoning is taken to its extreme. This is when a person stops texting you cold-turkey, and fades away first from your phone and then life. Needless to say, this is the nuclear missile in your arsenal of social weapons: only last-resort, and always destructive.
Irony is the key
Too many exclamation marks or emojis in one text is, as we like to say, just not it. However, if you do it ironically? That’s a different story. It’s a subtle art of balancing out the unassuming enthusiasm we encounter in family groups while showing that we’re not serious about it. For example, you’ll see gen z gravitating towards (too many) off-center emojis for the desired effect.
To flip this over, some just won’t use any emojis at all.
Instead, they’ll use 🙂 or a :)) or a ^___^ but rarely a 😀 and god forbid if someone goes for a xD unironically. They can all mean different things too, a 🙂 can be a naively friendly ending to a text, passive aggression or sometimes just plain anguish.
Exhibit A: “i just got my 5th assignment of the day haha i love college :))))))))))”
Translation: They don’t love college.
Choose Your Own Case
Notice the all lower-case register? This is for when you want to present yourself as nonchalant as it contains the non-verbal signal of informality. To achieve this, it’s best to blacklist autocorrect off your phone.
Speaking of lower and upper-case, we like to switch things up or “sWiTch tHinGs uP”. This is the texting equivalent of siblings fighting when one mocks the other as soon as they turn away.
Gen Z humour is absurdist and cryptic. It’s gratifying to have something that only you and your friends can laugh at, while your parents shoot you their best “what did I do wrong” look.
To Full-stop or Not to Full-stop
In a 2015 study, participants rated “texts that ended with a period as less sincere than those that did not” while no such difference was found for handwritten notes. This can be confusing: should one subvert grammatical rules for the sake of appearing amiable to a gen-zer? Linguist Lauren Collister calls herself a “code-switcher”, mirroring the texting tendencies of the recipient: if someone is informal, then she might drop the uppercase but if someone ends with a period, then she does too.
The way we communicate is no less better or worse than how older generations used to—it’s just different. Every generation, be it the Boomers, Gen X or Millenials all created their own vocabulary, finding respite in the exclusivity of an inside joke. If Gen Z is starting to show the tell-tale signs of a cult, then you’re well on your way to understanding and maybe even moonlighting as one of us—grammatical warts and all.
Devika is a second-year Economics and Media Studies major, an aspiring coffee-snob and always on the hunt for a new addition to her already overflowing to-be-read list.