Communicating Outside of Language through Technology

By Nick Epson on December 29, 2021

The ability to functionally interact with another individual without knowing their language is a remarkable feat – over time, mechanisms surfacing in technology have been bridging people across the globe and enabling an unprecedented level of collaboration, essentially granting simple techniques for capably communicating outside of language. Tools like Google Translate aside, certain functions built into apps we use every day enable people to accomplish tasks without ever exchanging a word. With ambitious metaverses on the horizon, understanding different techniques available will be helpful for users and digital product owners alike.

Thanks to modern social platforms and gaming, we’ve had to come up with ways to communicate with each other that circumvents using a common tongue. What we’ve come up with so far are a handful of common, nonverbal communication techniques that allow people to collaborate well enough to complete some task. With a new generation of metaverses on the horizon, understanding the mechanics of what we use today will be important to help shape the tools and features of tomorrow.

Here we’re going to look at a few examples, such as the beloved emoji, and also discuss some game footage to help illustrate an example of nonverbal communication and why it’s so important.

Lessons we’ve learned from gaming

There are plenty of lessons to be found in gaming that transcend entertainment and provide valuable lessons in the app world. In gaming, a common mechanic found in most multiplayer games from Fortnite to modern Call of Duty titles allows players to ‘mark’ an object in an environment, usually by simply targeting whatever it might be the pressing the appropriate button.

Cooperating Through Tales of Iyo Part II

GhostOfTsushima

Interestingly, this simple feature can be more than enough to circumvent language altogether such as above during a platforming section in Ghosts of Tsushima: Legends. Each players’ sword color (i.e. “attunement”) corresponds to a specific symbol that will materialize a platform but the catch is the only person who can see the symbol is the player who remained unattuned. Thanks to another player pointing, I knew when to jump as I don’t have the order memorized like the other two – in the example above it just saved us time but when it came to navigating a similar section where multiple platform options were available, it was instrumental considering I didn’t speak the language of the other three players.

With upcoming metaverses set in 3D environments (VR and otherwise), simple features like the ability to mark an object in an environment or on a map will be an incredibly helpful tool for users to assist others in navigating virtual environments.

The case for the emoji

A video of some cute animal in a zoo taken on the other side of the world doesn’t need language to stir up some simpatico among viewers. If you’re like most people in the Western hemisphere, Eastern writing styles may be a mystery but the emojis and reactions we use on platforms like Facebook are universal.

Today, we use these cute little icons just about everywhere from texts and emails to professional copy on websites and even notifications you receive from apps installed on your phone. The emojis of today evolved out of the emoticons that had been around since the days of the typewriter but served no real purpose other than entertainment but now they’re commonplace, serving as anything from added emphasis to a mechanism that conveys an entire idea.

For example, this video of a live botfly removal generates a slew of emotions (as every botfly video does) from the users who react. You’ll see everything from 👏🏼 to 😂 and 🤢which, with no further information pretty much tells you exactly how the user is feeling about the video or the comment to which they’re replying. Between emojis, memes, and other popular methods of digital communication that have only recently emerged in the last couple of decades is an objectively effective means for getting an idea across, sometimes circumventing the need for language altogether.

A quick look on the web will reveal all kinds of information about emojis, sliced and diced in just about every way imaginable – the most important thing we can take away from “emoji analytics” is that people love to use them. Though some correctly argue that they’re mostly a superfluous addition to our digital communications, the folks studying computer-mediated communication (CMC) will tell you that’s just one function of their impact on language.

The same holds true for memes and GIFs  – and yes, it is pronounced ‘JIF’ – which can be just impactful for user communication outside of a common language. After all, some of the earliest written languages were pictographic in nature because (aside from the lack of alternatives) it worked!

Designing for languageless communication

So, what does it all mean?

Consider this: the English language in which this blog is written has tons of rules and quirks but it’s still quite nebulous when you think of all the different dialects, idioms, and phrases that have come and gone since it first came into existence alongside other Germanic languages. English has gone through all kinds of phases over time to include notable varieties like the writings of Shakespeare or even the old-timey, early 20th century English when people called each other “wise guys.”

The takeaway, quite simply, is that the finer points of communication change –  while the history of language is important, what’s most valuable for the present and near-future are the phenomena we see and use right now. People are using mechanics like pointing with their in-game avatar, keyboard emojis, and memes they find on Twitter and Reddit to communicate with each other meaning it’s important for digital businesses to embrace these communication styles.

If you’re planning to become a digital product owner or are thinking of revamping a digital service where users can freely mingle, providing a means for people to convey ideas without language is becoming more important than ever. Pointing to things and exchanging little faces with different expressions is a good start for today but the technologies of tomorrow will present new challenges and opportunities.

As time goes on, the need to communicate outside language will become more commonplace, extending outside the realm of gaming and casual socialization. As a digital product owner, it will be your business’s responsibility to stay on top of emerging communication trends and ideally, explore and test your own ideas to see what works. Meeting evolving languageless communication needs on this new frontier will set apart the good from the truly great experiences.

We understand communication at Blue Label Labs

We know that interaction on a global requires some creativity to allow people to properly communicate. There are all kinds of ways we can use the few examples above in apps to facilitate communication, not to mention all the ways we have yet to uncover. If you have an idea for a project you’d like to discuss with us, get in touch!