Different people have different ideas about what it means to sign an email “XOXO,” what you should use Facebook for, and how long you can wait before texting back.
The meanings we glean in conversation are often, maybe mostly, not found in the words spoken, but in how they’re said, and in the spaces between them. Tone of voice, and cadences created by shifts in speed, volume, and pitch, let listeners know whether “Nice job,” is complimentary or sarcastic, or whether “Wow” shows that you’re impressed or underwhelmed. The literal meaning of words is their message, and everything about how words are said is the metamessage. Metamessages communicate how you mean what you say.
More and more conversations are taking place on screens—via texting, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, email, and myriad other platforms. Some of these written conversations make up for the lack of voicing with conventions that mimic speech, like exclamation points, CAPS, and repetition of words or letters. I can be “so happy!!!!!!!” or “sooooo happy” or “SO happy” or “sosososo happy” or even “SOSOSOSOOOOOO happy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Emoticons, emojis, and gifs help, too. But these visual signals are only the tip of the metamessage iceberg.