Connection, reflection, and why I now only dislike emoticons

If making good connections were easy, then when you checked Amazon, you wouldn’t get this:

Actual Amazon Books search result for "make connections."

One problem stems from discrimination hidden in the word “connection”—we use it for different and sometimes conflicting kinds of relationships.

My professional connections used to happen via ISPI, inmy local chapter or at the annual conference, which I’ve attended at least a dozen times.  I’d be nearly paralyzed by potential—smart people working on challenging projects, eager to talk about what they’d learned (and even what they couldn’t figure out).

Lately my connections start with meeting virtually.  First my blog, then my Facebook presence, and now Twitter have opened doors I’d never have expected.

I’m still figuring this stuff out.  That ambiguity in the word “connection” is like the verb “think.”  When I started practicing my French in Second Life, I’d sometimes apologize for my slowness and explain (in French) that I needed to think before I spoke.  I’d say, “Il me faut penser…” (“I have to think…”)

Listening to my friends, I learned that they’d say “Il me faut réfléchir.” In the dictionary, one translation of réfléchir is “to think,” but others include “to reflect, to think about.”

I suppose you could learn another language just by reading it, or just by watching video in that language–but you’ll learn faster with conscious reflection, and you’ll learn faster when you connect to people and ideas in that language.

So what’s this got to do with emoticons? Well, I had messy handwriting as a kid.

So what’s that got to do with emoticons?

The summer I was 11, I took a typing course.  I type fast (especially for a male in my generation).  When I first got online in the early 1980s, I liked to think I could convey my meaning in words fast; trying to type an emoticon just slowed me down.

That works well if I’m using text with highly verbal English speakers.  When text-chatting in French, I now use emoticons a lot more, because I feel the need to make myself clear.

My French is mediocre and a bit erratic, so people can misunderstand me when I try to joke or tease.  The emoticon  ^^ — which is apparently the French equivalent of :-)  — seems to portray upturned corners of a smile.  (Just so you know, mon ami.)

In other words, it’s something I can use to build a connection.  Strangers get to know me, and they can decide, “He’s a guy with a sense of humor.”  And it’s worked.

I hadn’t been using my French much.  Then yesterday I spent about an hour and a half talking to someone I know, someone I’d met once, and a third person who just wandered up.  It was like those hallway conversations at a conference, except one of us had green-black wings, one of us had blue skin, and all of us could fly if we felt like it.

Connecting, thinking about how I connect, reflecting on what happens afterward–this stuff works.  But I’m still not going to call those things “smilies.”