In a world of hyper-busyness, stripped back interaction has become the norm – from the cultural phenomenon of emojis to the preference for texting over calling. And through the launch of smartphone app Yo, yet another layer has been added to these minimal forms of communication. This is a social platform where users can say just one word: “Yo.” Yet with one million downloads so far, is it as stupid as critics suggest?
When people message each other, they tend to text fewer people often. “Part of the reason the volume of text messaging is so high is because a lot of exchange is just, ‘This is what I’m doing, this is what I’m feeling’,” explains cultural anthropologist Mimi Ito. “This is transmitting the message: ‘I’m here with you, I’m connected to you’.”
It’s this desire to connect on even the smallest level that is drawing people to Yo – the same thing that drives the success of emojis. They enable people to establish a “virtual co-presence,” explains Huffington Post tech editor Bianca Bosker. “Using emojis, in a sense, is like a hangout online.” There’s now even an emoji-only social network. “At the zero level, below text, there is still significant communication possible,” adds Jaan Tallinn, co-founder of Skype. And a growing number of messaging apps and services are working at this zero level.
Anthropologist Bronisław Malinowski describes this type of interaction as ‘phatic expression’. It’s communication that performs a social task rather than transmitting information. Perhaps this is the kind of interaction apps like Yo provide – a simple reminder that someone is thinking of them.
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