For me, this word conjures up a sense of childishness and immaturity. Ever since people in my circle started using emoji’s I’ve been adamantly against them. What is wrong with simple text-based communication and using symbols such as 🙂 at the end of a message to denote a lightheartedness to your message? Why must we use cartoon looking characters such as 😃 and 😭 to communicate? They look ridiculous.
My friend, Jonathan Pennington, has been encouraging me to read this article from New York Magazine on the history of the emoji. I must admit, reading this has opened up my mind a little bit. I’ve always known that I’m bucking against the norm and probably in my own stubbornness and immaturity is the reason I’ve rejected the emoji. But in my own stubbornness, I’ve missed out on the beauty of how language works. All language is a sea of symbols. The words on this page are just a pile of symbols that we have culturally accepted to represent something other than the word. Emoji are just part of the evolution of how we communicate. They also have a brilliance to them by offering more flexibility than the traditional written word.
This elasticity of meaning is a large part of the appeal and, perhaps, the genius of emoji. They have proved to be well suited to the kind of emotional heavy lifting for which written language is often clumsy or awkward or problematic, especially when it’s relayed on tiny screens, tapped out in real time, using our thumbs. These seemingly infantile cartoons are instantly recognizable, which makes them understandable even across linguistic barriers. Yet the implications of emoji—their secret meanings—are constantly in flux.
As our world becomes more and more mobile-centric and our communication is written through devices it is natural that the symbols we use to communicate will transform as well. Communication is now in bite-sized pieces: short and to the point. The cleverness of the emoji is that it can pack the non-verbal into a single character on the screen.
“When it comes to text-based communication, we’re babies,” explains Tyler Schnoebelen, a linguistics Ph.D. from Stanford who works for Idibon, a text-analytics company. As he says, we’ve learned to talk, and we’ve learned to write, but we’re only now learning to write at the speed of talking (i.e., text), sending messages over vast expanses, absent any physical contextual clues. If you are talking to someone face-to-face, you don’t need an additional word or symbol to express “I’m smiling” because you would, presumably, be smiling. The psychologist Albert Mehrabian, in an oft-cited (and occasionally criticized) study, determined in the 1950s that only 7 percent of communication is verbal (what we say), while 38 percent is vocal (how we say it) and 55 percent is nonverbal (what we do and how we look while we’re saying it). This is well and good for face-to-face communication, but when we’re texting, 93 percent of our communicative tools are negated.
So maybe I should welcome the evolution of language, break my stubbornness, and embrace the emoji.
You should really check out the article: The Rapid Evolution of Emoji