If you’ve texted or tweeted in the past few days, you’ve probably used at least one emoji in your post, or even a conga line. It’s hard to imagine a world without purple hearts and smiling poo. People spoke using diction, syntax, and punctuation, but as we took to social media and smartphones, emoji chatter reigns supreme.
Enthusiasts pride themselves on showing off what they can do with very little, and digital action figures have recreated great works such as Grant Wood’s “American Gothic”. Gambling aside, should someone over 30 use a dancer, crying cat, or crescent to express how they feel? If we’re old and jaded enough to remember the original acid house smiley face, surely we’re old and smart enough to tell each other when we’re happy, sad, or opposed to Brexit. The silence was an accident; now that’s a goal. No matter how complicated something can be, someone narrows it down to a cartoon.
Emojis are the brainchild of Shigetaka Kurita, a Japanese engineer who created 176 icons to dispel communication errors caused by early cellphones. Fast forward to 2021, and collectively we’re sending 6 billion emojis per day. But how do they make you feel?
Critics accuse emojis of ruining the English language and causing laziness. Others say that replacing punctuation with pictograms causes confusion and superficial relationships. Turn that yellow frown inside out and emojis are a connection on the go. They help us understand where to classify a conversation and avoid misinterpretation by making intentional gestures. Emojis are an easy way to get your flirtatious. People don’t have to say, “I like you. The images speak. According to a survey from Match.com – a popular online collection site – emoji users don’t just get more action; they go on more dates.
But that doesn’t mean emojis make flirting better. They just make it easier. When Shane and I dated, we used no aphrodisiacs, only awkward conversation and heavy silence. And what’s wrong with that? Frankly, if you need a purple devil or an eggplant to express your hope for sex, you don’t have to strip down.
For better or for worse, messaging allows us to hide our true feelings. And when the emoji lexicon is the fastest growing language in history, it begs the question: are we relying too much on it?
Emoticon has taken on the crucial role of helping us say what we think, and most importantly how fed up we are with friends, family, coworkers, owners, and anyone else who deserves our false courtesy. Recently, I’ve been the subject of events, in a series of messages that look more like hieroglyphics than English. There is no Egyptian in my immediate genealogy, but seven broken faces, four palms on her face, and a girl rubbing her head seem overkill to convey anything – not to mention a minor misunderstanding. Let me call him for what he is: passive-aggressive. And emojis have become a free ticket to engage. I think hostility without intervention in texts is similar to aggression in cars or on the Internet. People feel protected when they hurl names without anyone seeing their bad games. You take a comment in the face, dress it up with a shrugging bird, and all of a sudden it’s all right.
As tempting as it may sound, coating a serrated pill in sugar doesn’t make it any easier to swallow. I have been hurt, belittled and frustrated by the messages I have received. Particularly because I couldn’t fully decipher their meaning and had no way of a proper response, a quick call or a face-to-face conversation would have paved the way for open communication. But that’s the problem, the idea that these images benefit their recipient is nonsense; they’re a loophole for conversations people don’t want to have, which is precisely the point I was making when a friend pointed out that my go-to emoji – the thumbs-up – is rude. It turns out that what was once a joke is now a dismissive kiss. What you say with a thumbs-up is, “This conversation is over for me. Do whatever you want from here.
And this is where the problem lies. If half of us report, “Got it,” while the other half read, “Give up,” how useful are emojis?
Emoticons are not to blame. The problem is with us. When an emoji likes, praises, criticizes, or cries on your behalf, it’s working too hard; a signal that you should show up instead. We used to feel quite uneasy about sharing difficult emotions on devices – and rightly so. Social mores have forced us into face-to-face conversations on sensitive topics, from notice to the end of a relationship. As easy as they are to trigger, passive-aggressive emojis are extremely obnoxious to receive. So get right to the point: if what you have to say is too unnecessary, hurtful, or difficult to share in person, keep it to yourself.
And if you can’t do that, write it down in your weekly column 👍.