Nonfiction

I Speak You Speak We All Speak Emoji

19 August 2015

If you’re a standard smartphone-bearing citizen of the 21st Century, then you probably use emojis. In fact, emoji has become so normalised in our day-to-day lives that it’s pretty much become our second language. Admit it, your Heys and How-are-yous are regularly accompanied by an assortment of yellow smileys, random animals and various hand gestures. According to a survey conducted by Talk Talk mobile, this is because 72 per cent of 18-25 year-olds find it easier to express their feelings through emojis rather than the written word. However, emoji-use isn’t merely confined to this demographic – it also enters the realm of the adult world. They’re even used by politicians, which, of course, increases the credibility of emoji as a legitimate and acceptable form of written communication. Julie Bishop is well known for her self-confessed love for emojis, and Christopher Pyne recently revealed the ‘two dancing girls’ to be his favourite emoji. By the looks of it, emoji isn’t just a temporary generational fad, but a newfound language that is here to stay.

But why do we love these little pictures so much, and what is the appeal of communicating with them rather than the good old written word?

Potential answers to this fundamental philosophical question of our time:

1. We need emojis in digital communication because they replace real human expression.

The thing about texting is that it doesn’t allow the visible expression of emotion. For example, in the real (and fast fading) world of face-to-face communication, we can say something mildly offensive (i.e. ‘I hate you’, ‘you’re such a fuckwit’ or ‘you are an absolute and utter dickhead’) but smile at the same time to let our companion know that we’re joking. However, if we simply text such phrases, our well-intentioned vulgarity will probably be interpreted in the wrong way. Due to a simple miscommunication, our friend is likely to feel confused, offended and/or betrayed. Language is a complicated thing, and sometimes meaning is lost when we fail to use it effectively.

Enter emojis.

With emojis, we can now accompany our texts with facial expressions ranging from love-heart eyes to shocked face to laughing face with tears in order to communicate a particular tone. In the digital world, emojis replace real facial expressions so we can convey our emotions more precisely, and without sounding like an idiot. For instance, instead of texting ‘Hi. My dog died. I am sad because my dog died’, we can simply text ‘Hi. My dog died ? ’. Hence, emojis are vital when texting our friends, as it allows us to illustrate the feelings that drive our message.

2. Sometimes you want to say something but you’re too shy to say it in words, so it’s easier to say it with emojis.

Say there’s a boy/girl that you’re secretly in love with and you kind of want to let them know that you’re secretly in love with them. Like most people, I would feel uncomfortable stating this merely with words. For example, in a (sad and difficult) world devoid of emojis, expressing your love interest via digital communication could go something like this:

BOY/GIRL YOU SECRETLY LOVE: Hey. Let’s do something this Saturday.

YOU: Ok, sure… By the way, I think you’re super attractive and am kind of, like, secretly in love with you.

In response to this declaration the boy/girl-you-secretly-love will probably be slightly taken aback or think you’re a bit weird – thereby ruining any chances of a blossoming romance. However, in this contemporary age, we can use emojis to convey our intended meaning in a subtle and infinitely sexier manner:

BOY/GIRL YOU SECRETLY LOVE: Hey. Let’s do something this Saturday.

YOU: Ok, sure ?

This way, you aren’t blatantly confessing your love, but sort of implying it so that the boy/girl-you-secretly-love understands what you’re trying to say without you actually having to say it. Emojis are useful because they allow us to blow kisses and make winky faces even if we’re too shy to do these things in real life.

3. Pictures are fun. Words are boring. Therefore, pictures > words.

Embellishing texts with cute little cats, people and love hearts may not be absolutely necessary, but hey – it can be pretty fun. People love emojis because it makes our messages aesthetically pleasing and fun to create. Instead of limiting ourselves to plain written word, we can now decorate our messages with a range of colourful visuals.

However, emojis aren’t merely an arbitrary illustrative device used for our visual stimulation and pleasure, but a useful method of direct communication. In many instances, emojis can be used as a language in itself. For example, in Julie Bishop’s emoji-only interview with Buzzfeed, she condensed the entirety of Tony Abbott’s personality, characteristics and physical presence on Earth into this: ??(a reference to his athletic prowess, or a more sinister metaphorical representation of his abdication of Prime-Ministerial responsibilities?) Vladimir Putin, on the other hand, she embodied as this: ? (I think it’s pretty clear what she’s trying to say here). Thus, emojis have the power to illustrate meaning through symbols so that they essentially replace the role of traditional language. A vast amount of our vocabulary has been taken over by the 722 emojis that are currently available – and with the latest release of 37 new emojis including a taco and a unicorn, we may as well give up on language all together and fully embrace emojis as our default method of communication. It’s faster and easier, therefore overriding any advantages offered by the written word… right? Which brings us to our last point –

4. Emoji-talk saves time and is therefore an economical medium of expression.

Why text ‘okay’ and waste your precious time typing all those letters when you can simply press one button and send your friend ‘?’ instead? In this case, it’s four times faster, plus your friend will instantly recognise your intended meaning. It’s quick, super economical and a win-win situation.

Emojis are convenient and of fundamental importance, as they simulate aspects of face-to-face communication that are difficult (and/or awkward) to convey through written word. We’ve readily integrated emojis into the art of texting, because they let us convey messages in a way that traditional language simply doesn’t allow. In an emoji-less world, we would be slave away typing up a whole lot of words (ugh), risk miscommunication, and just never truly be able to get our point across. Emojis possess a universal appeal – because in this era of digital communication, they provide us with a means to most clearly express ourselves.


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