The Emoji Apocalypse

A reflection on how social media simplifies and yet muddles our relationships.

I’m a pretty devout Android user, mostly because my non-techy brain only sees the price tag as the principle difference between phones. I do, however, sometimes find myself covetously eyeing up my friends’ iphones’ when I see how they are blessed with a gazillion different emojis. For instance, there is a brick, a mango and something intriguingly titled as ‘Nazar Amulet.’ My own unassuming messages, dotted with grins and surprised faces, are humbled by those of Iphone users, the nuanced meanings of which would surely shame any novella in their depth and precision.

Yet even the seeming infinity of Apple emojis only goes so far. I remember some time ago passionately defending emojis’ place in the world as a way of quickly conveying tone, and as very handy in lightening up a message which might otherwise appear abrupt. I am now eating my words, as emojis have crept beyond their purpose as a helpful tool in easing communication, to taking over.

Yes, my friends, this is the Emoji Apocalypse.

Photo: Lakenheath

Emojis limit what we can express: what if there isn’t an emoji for what you want to say, or for how you feel? The pressure to use emojis means that we are unable to articulate what we find important. It wouldn’t be a stretch to compare this to Orwell’s 1984, where the dictionaries are gradually reduced. I imagine the government quickly took out words like revolution, then freedom and love – for if there is no word for something it cannot be expressed, understood or spread.

Emojis muddle the water in our communication, they are too vague and too meaningless to convey anything beyond bare minimal information. Have you ever had a relationship or even a break-up over social media? My own experiences showed me that it was not a medium for human communication and instead one which led to multiple misunderstandings. How does an XD face differ from a wink? And how often are you really crying with laughter when you send that emoji? These are slight, unintentional, deceptions which lead to mix-ups that build up and up.

 

Photo: Flickr

Well, what’s the issue with clarifying something if it’s a bit ambiguous? And if you know the person then you know what they mean. This is pretty awkward to do, and even if you know them you are often especially at risk of misunderstanding as expectations are pre-set.

The tentacles of emojis stretch beyond our lives on social media. I’ve noticed that some of my friends talk fairly expressionlessly and then – suddenly – break into a bamboozling cheese, maybe accompanied by loopy eyes and an awkwardly sticking out tongue.

Exactly like an emoji.

Their speech is not punctuated by the subtleties of irony, joy or whatever tone it may be, but is inundated by a rather basic preset meaning. I realise I may be coming across as an English Lit. snob but bear with me.

This is not the stock-up-on-Tesco-milk-Beast-from-the-East apocalypse. And I am not suggesting that we return back to pre-internet days or write Austenian prose when we’re messaging our friends on where to meet for coffee. I just hope that when you send your next message, whether it’s in two minutes or an hour after reading this, you wonder a moment on what you tap into your screen.

There is something eerie in emojis: their frozen, clown-like expressions are unnatural and cold. They slyly introduce new rules into our behaviour, confusing our relations through social media and beyond, inviting us to be computer-structured in our relationships.

 

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