As a quintessential Gen Z-er, I am conversationally impaired without my painstakingly-curated digital repository of stickers, emoticons and emojis. How could I not, when they have the power to impart shades and nuances that colloquial devices cannot effectively convey?
Responding playfully to a lame quip from a close friend with a terse remark lacks the theatricality of a flamboyant swivelling “OK” sign. A sprawling dead-eyed Kermit screams exasperation of an intensity that beggars description, infusing an impassioned rant with a much-warranted melodramatic tinge. And who could decline even the most onerous request at the heart-rending sight of a puppy with its paws clasped in earnest imploration?
When emails superseded texts as my dominant mode of communication for work and research, I balked at the cold, perfunctory exchanges. The striking absence of a warm human touch was discomfortingly at odds with my propensity for genuine, personal engagement. In a bid to lighten the tone of solemn discussions, I interspersed plain words with cordial smileys. But the bold attempts backfired, my well-intentioned overtures coming across as shallow and contrived.
Dismiss it as childish naivete if you must, but I refused to accept that this– sterile, dull and flagrantly pragmatic– was the immutable nature of work conversations and relationships. Thus began a series of strategic efforts to transpose these dialogues to the familiar grounds of WhatsApp and Telegram. There, with an extensive pictorial arsenal once again at my disposal, surely I would be better-placed to forge more meaningful connections?
Self-doubt and anxiety clouded the start of my endeavor. Was this appropriate? How would others react? Would my gestures be misconstrued? Preferring to err on the side of caution, I was conservative in my choices– especially with people many years my senior (boomers, basically)– carefully testing the waters before deciding to advance or retreat. It was a delicate balancing act that entailed not so much treading the fine line between the personal and the professional as constantly zigzagging across it, expertly adjusting the sails whenever the needle strayed too far off-centre.
Unapologetically nonchalant responses threatened to dampen my enthusiasm, but a handful of earnest reciprocations convinced me that it was well worth the effort. I am still not quite sure what to make out of these relationships, though. They continue to awkwardly straddle the ambiguous divide between work and life, suffusing me with guilt-ridden gratitude for reaping the practical benefits borne out of mutual amity, while evoking bouts of skepticism towards the other party’s intentions when the friendly exploitation becomes too blatant and overbearing.
I guess I’m starting to get a taste of office politics.