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Back to cave art with emoji messaging

With Apple automating emoji usage and others catching on, the future of writing looks bleak, says Rajiv Makhni.

brunch Updated: Jul 16, 2016 20:27 IST
emojis,eggplant emoji,Shakespearean lingo

How’s your emoji game? Can you message an entire sentence with clever little pictures instead of words? Can you combine pictures and words in such a way that the receiver is both impressed and a little intimidated? Have you never struggled with messages full of emojis? Do you know all the double meanings behind the most-used emojis?

Or do you still call them emoticons? Do you get confused as to which emoji to use besides the smiley and the sad face? Do you think the smiley poo emoji is actually just happy chocolate ice-cream? Because you thought that, have you been sending out bad smelling but smiling poop when all you wanted was to tell someone you just enjoyed some creamy ice-cream?

With Apple automating emoji usage and others catching on, things are about to change dramatically

Have you sent the eggplant emoji to numerous people not knowing that it’s usually used to denote one large part of the male anatomy? Do you have multiple messages in your inbox full of emojis and still have no idea what they mean and are too embarrassed to ask anyone?

Welcome to the brand-new world of emojis. You may have been using them for a while, you may even think you’re fairly witty and clever with how you use them, you may even be an expert in emoji combos – but you haven’t seen anything yet.

With Apple automating emoji usage and suggestions (you type a plain word sentence and it’ll show you how many emojis you could have used instead) plus doubling the size of the little critters – and almost all the others now wanting to get into the word-replaced-by-emoji game – things are about to change dramatically.

There are two schools of thought here. Emojis are ruining language, word and sentence-construction skills, while the other side is all for it being a clever and creative way of communicating in the new age of technology and instant messaging. Let’s explore both sides briefly before I tell you which school of thought I lean towards.

The Case For Clever New-age Communication

People have always feared change, always been afraid of the unfamiliar and always reluctant to give up on the past. But every generation evolves their own language. If that wasn’t true, we would all be writing in Latin or speaking in Shakespearean lingo. Language and expression evolves and the move to more pictorial ways of messaging is just that. It’s not corrupting language.

It’s a repurposed, swifter, wittier and more efficient way of communicating. Plus emojis are universal. You don’t need to know French or German to thank someone or tell them that meeting them made you happy. Just emoji it to them.

The pro-emoji camp believes emojis to be a swifter, wittier and more efficient way of communicating

Scott Fahlman is credited with being the first to start the whole idea of expressing emotions and words with pictures. He sent an email in 1982 suggesting that :) be called a joke marker (yes, it wasn’t called a smiley then) to denote humour or sarcasm in a sentence. He also used a :( but thankfully didn’t call it a sadness marker. Today, these are universal expressions and are not seen as corrupting language.

In the same way, emojis will evolve to become a universal language. Don’t be afraid of emojis, embrace them. They are not going anywhere and are the face of the future. After all, Oxford Dictionaries declared the ‘face with tears of joy’ emoji as word of the year 2015.

The Case For Why Emojis Are Ruining Everything And Everyone

Emojis are truly beautiful. Yes, very creative, very universal. Just like caveman drawings, Egyptian hieroglyphs, Mayan icons and half-a-dozen other ancient civilisations who used pictures to communicate.

It’s also the reason why the Egyptians were never able to document their history, write books or evolve into a literary society. It wasn’t till the Greek alphabet that books or stories or any real communication took place.

Pictures as a language are pretty but very static. There are limits to what you can say or do. It is almost impossible to take forward deep thoughts, explain ideas, write meaningful poetry or even tell a story. Try and put together about a 100 emojis to tell a story and you’ll end up confused yourself.

Yes, it’s been done and it was fun and it made the author famous. But it is also useful to know that of every 100 people who tried to read an all-emoji story, more than 95 gave up after the first nine emojis.

Plus there is no universal acceptance of pictures as words. Different cultures interpret emojis differently. The ‘pig snout’ emoji may be fun in Japan, but is taken to be a racial slur in the Middle East. And it’s not just about different cultures.

Pictures as a language are pretty but very static, argues the anti-emoji school of thought

In various studies, it’s been found that more than 70 per cent of people interpret emojis very differently from what the sender had intended it to be. Over 50 per cent are usually confused and don’t know what a message means when more than four emojis are used.

So where do I stand on the emoji debate? Very much on the #BanEmoji side. I don’t want to sound like a crusty conservative who wants to question progress, but is this really progress? If this is evolution then it’s moving backwards. If this is us moving to the future then it’s a downhill future.

Most people are forgetting the art of writing with short forms, too many acronyms and way too much slang being used in written communication. Add automated emojis to the equation and it sounds like the end of the communication world, not the start of future communication. Every time I get a message with a lot of emojis, I feel very :(

Emojis are great, but should be left to the cavemen!

From HT Brunch, July 17, 2016

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First Published: Jul 16, 2016 18:28 IST