Technological advances often bring about vast changes in the ways that we communicate; this, in turn, often brings large cultural changes. With any form of cultural change there is a resistance both to the technology and to the unique forms of expression that these new forms can bring. Nobody wants to commit themselves to a form that will soon be out of style–a relic of an old age only to be parodied later–so they do their best to ignore that which is modern or new. Others commit themselves entirely to new technologies either to great avail or to great shame.
There comes a point when these forms enter into a debate as to whether they are juvenile forms of expression or something that can be used in deep or profound or even mainstream ways where culture at large recognizes it as a part of the norm.
Today the focal point of this discussion is the emoji. The emoji is something that is not poised to go away (though it might be replaced) and the question is whether it is something altogether useless or is it something that can be used to contribute to living life in the world?
Full disclosure, I’m a bit of a Luddite when it comes to these things. I’m not sure I’ve ever used an emoji–I don’t own any sort of smart phone, I don’t have an Instagram account, have never snap chatted, etc…
My natural inclination on this is to reject it entirely. I’ve seen the emoji in use and it feels quite lackluster. Really? Small pictures? People messing around with these reminds me of my high school days where you would send the most abstract smiley faces you could to one another–it was fun for a minute, but it never really stuck.
But that doesn’t mean emoji won’t. I remember my senior year of high school my English teacher declared that our texting acronyms (this was at the first peak of texting, when all the parents would joke about how weird text-speak was. LOL) were actually their own form of poetry. We sort of laughed her off–she was kind of strange after all.
Upon review though I don’t think she was entirely wrong. While a lot of the the texting acronyms (do we have a better phrase to describe this? I swear there is an actual name for this) have failed to remain a part of the larger consciousness (TTYL anyone?) others are relevant and have escaped that connotation of simply standing for something else. LOL, OMG, and WTF are real things now. If a modern poet used them in a poem it still might be for playful or ironic purposes, but at this point I don’t think it would look too out of place.
Emojis could go this route. We never wanted to be poetic, but we altered the way we spoke and communicated. By not intending to be anything profound something can in fact obtain profundity. Kids aren’t trying to do anything special or important, they’re just doing it and this is a form of expression and that makes it work. Layers of meaning upon meaning are being formed later to be used and to be undermined and to evolve the way language and culture always does.
Emojis are so dumb though, right?