I’m old school. Emoticon old school. I remember paging my friends “:)” for a smiley face. And paging my best friend 22378008 (that spells “boobless” if you read it upside down).
In college, I got my first cell phone. No one really texted back then, because my family had the plan where you’re charged per text. Cruel, I know. When I did text, we still used emoticons, and we started using the famous internet acronyms, like “lol” and “wtf”.
Then came the emoji…revolutionizing how we use language. And I think it’s for the worse.
What emoticons, acronyms and emojis have in common, is that they allow us to quickly convey a response or an emotion. What distinguishes emojis, from their more innocent predecessors, is that an emoji can convey a complex emotion and creates a universal language.
That sounds like a good thing, right?
Ten words becomes a picture. “I love you” is now a heart. “I adore you/this” is now a heart-eyed smiley face. “I want to get it on”, becomes an eggplant and peach (I think).
We use emojis to take the place of our verbal and written communication. We use emojis to not only share that we’re happy, but also the degree to which we’re happy. We use emojis to acknowledge we saw someone’s message – to not leave them hanging, but we don’t know what word to say.
What’s more – the meaning of emojis is fluid. Certain emojis fall in and out of trend – like the laugh/cry emoji, which I recently found out is “uncool” to use (cool kids use the skull emoji). New emojis are added every year – fascinating process, listen to this episode of 99% Invisible to learn more about the emoji development process. Spoiler alert: you can submit a proposal for your own. And the meaning of emojis can change over time – you can try to keep up by using Emojipedia.
Emojis are a universal language. It’s downfall is that it is a nuanced, always-changing, quickly-evolving, universal language. Those three adjectives turn emojis from good to evil.
Let’s take this one: 🥰
I use this emoji when I’m feeling the love and admiration from someone. Someone else may see it as me giving them kisses all over. According to Emojipedia, the emoji “expresses a range of happy, affectionate feelings, especially being in love.” To me, the Emojipedia meaning has no meaning. It’s fluff.
Me, the recipient, and now Emojipedia, are speaking completely different languages (just wrote a post about that). It’s confusing and emojis, ironically, add complexity to the conversation.
When we use words, we can paint a picture with those words so that the listener knows exactly what we’re saying. It’s artistic: “I love you to the moon and back, and I would risk my life to save you from a burning building”, becomes this:
or maybe this?
I want to see us become artists again. Write feelings with actual words, so that we’re able to paint our own pictures, instead of using emojis: a pre-painted, off the shelf, low-budget version of how we feel and the emotions we have. It would do the world a little good, and may get us out of where we are.