Emoji, Gifs, Stickers and Modern Human Interaction
Here are some facts:
In 2015, Oxford chose the ‘face with tears of joy’ emoji as the word of the year. A bit questionable, considering that it’s technically isn’t a word at all. But if a bright yellow laughing inhuman face is what sells these days then who is Oxford to object?
On Facebook, 60 million emoji are used every day and 5 billion emoji are exchanged on Messenger alone.
The origin of emoji can arguably be traced to Japanese artist Shigetaka Kurita back in 1999 when he designed a set of emoji characters for an early mobile internet platform. Whether he was aware he was starting a revolutionary communication trend or not remains debatable but the effect of emoji and other digital forms like stickers and gifs on the way we interact has been monumental.
Shakespeare might’ve written sonnets to prove his love, but for us, about 5 heart emojis will usually do the job. Talk about low expectations. All this discussion about how these mediums are hampering our ability to communicate but my friend sends me an ‘I love you’ sticker every time I remind her to take her medicines and really, I’m surer of her love than I am of the love certain relatives of mine are definitely harboring for me. So what if they haven’t ever actually said it out loud? Or sent me a heart emoji? It’s the feeling that counts. Right?
In this day and age when it’s the easiest thing in the world to look around and become miserable, people need to be reminded that they are loved. People need to be told that they are cherished and adored. ‘Tough love’ is not the solution, probably never was. What it has done is give rise to a generation of emotionally-stunted people who have trouble expressing whatever they feel and in turn might end up similarly influencing their younger ones too.
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The very basic objective of these mediums is simple – to humanize chat forums; which otherwise can be guilty of coming off as a bit mechanical. A three-second gif of a room in flames tagged as ‘my life’ somehow does a better job of explaining your state of mind than a text along the lines of “I think my life is falling apart”. Of course, you will have to use words to articulate why exactly your life is falling apart but the gif sure catches attention faster.
It is not as if the older generation remains dignified and impervious to this invasion of emoji, gifs, and stickers. Trends always catch on and this is no exception. Mothers, fathers, aunts and uncles, grandmothers, and that one cousin thrice removed wishing you happy birthday on Facebook by sending a sticker of a birthday cake they would never buy you in real life; or better still, sending a gif of bursting balloons and shiny streamers even though they’ve been saying you’re too old for such things for the past fifteen years.
A menace to linguistic eloquence?
A point often raised is that emoji and stickers are eroding our language skills and the ‘proper’ way to communicate. While that fear isn’t particularly unfound, it’s also not as alarming as some people make it out to be. Emoji, stickers, and gifs cannot replace vernacular language but can enhance the effect it has. In a UK survey of 2000 residents (18-25-year-olds), 72% of them said that emoji helped them express their emotions better. And in the end, isn’t that prime objective of communication?
(While we are on the subject of grammar, the ever-reliable Oxford dictionary says the plural of emoji is emoji and not ‘emojis’. There's your lesson for the day. Pass it on via WhatsApp).
A fact I think is particularly fascinating is that emojis, stickers, and gifs have somehow managed to overcome linguistic barriers. Perhaps it’s because they appeal directly to our humanistic emotions. We don’t laugh in any particular language.
If I were to send a brightly grinning emoji to a Japanese person, they would still get me and my rawest emotion. And while it seems rather counter-intuitive at first, I do think these digital mediums have the potential to overcome or at least shorten the generational gap as well. Yes, my grandfather isn’t aware of the notorious second meaning behind the peach emoji but he knows when he likes a video, he can just send a ‘thumbs up’ emoji.
A measure of ‘maturity’
There’s this notion, that someone who uses too many of these stickers, emoji, and gifs is a playful happy go lucky sport who can’t be bothered to take things seriously. I’m not going to try and negate this notion; rather I have a problem with the entire ideology behind it. Is my frequency in the usage of digital stickers now a scale of my emotional intelligence? What, then, is the daily limit of using emoji and still be taken seriously as a human with thoughts, ideas, and imperfections?
Usage of these forms is a matter of individual habit and should not be subject to judgment in any setting. Moreover, I do believe we could do with a little more happy go lucky sporty behavior these days as we continue to remain shut inside our houses.
Context matters (and very rightly so)
Of course, as the age-old (and rather overused) saying goes, each coin has two sides. If along with an official email to your superior about your sick leave, you attach a gif of a cartoon blowing its nose, one would not be mistaken in assuming that you have taken matters a tad too far. While these digital forms are becoming more and more prevalent, they are yet to breach the formal environment and truly, it will be a considerable amount of time before they are acceptable in such spaces. Until then, it’s wise to lay off the angry face when your boss asks you to work overtime.
As always, timing is everything. Well, that and the useful ability to read the room. Don’t send a frowny face when a close friend is sharing some genuine issues they might be facing. Do not, under any circumstances, use emoji or stickers or gifs as a quick escape from situations where you are expected to be sensitive or emotionally present. This can and will breed into a recurring behavior of emotional avoidance.
Sometimes, quite naturally, an overuse or rather the sole usage of these mediums can come across as flippant. The person on the receiving end of them might feel like we don’t want to devote any actual time to this interaction. Anyone whom we have deemed as someone we are close to; we owe it to them to not just humor them in our interactions but to put in actual effort. These forms must not fuel our tendencies of thoughtlessness.
In the end, we must remember that these digital forms are not sentient and it is up to us to have the ability to differentiate between situations when their usage is appropriate and when it is not. But if five bright red heart emoji is what it takes to spread love then who are we to deny the course of nature? These forms can be a simple yet effective way of getting through to people we care about and, in the end, that is its greatest achievement.
Edited by Annanya Chaturvedi