“We usually just talk using Emojis.”
This is what 18-year-old Hope R. told me in a recent conversation we had about how she and her friends use their phones to communicate with one another. The college freshman, who has had an iPhone for two years and admits she “only calls her parents on the phone and no one else, really”, explained that emojis sent alongside every text are the new normal.
When I asked her about email, she dismissed it quickly.
“I just use that for school.”
Emojis, the smileys in Japanese electronic messages and web pages, earned their way into digital culture royalty just a few years back, when various developers created apps for mobile users to download that allowed them the option to add little picture messages into text conversations. When Apple introduced iOS 6, it allowed iPhone users to directly integrate emojis into their keyboard through the OS settings.
Now, they’re everywhere in pop culture. Katy Perry recently released a video for her hit song “Roar” which consists solely of the lyrics to the song as conveyed through emojis. Here’s a screenshot:
A translation of the above:
I used to bite my tongue and hold my breath
Scared to rock the boat and make a mess
So I sit quietly
In 2009, a man named Fred Benenson began a Kickstarter to help him raise money so that he could compile an emoji-only translation of Herman Melville’s literary classic Moby Dick. He succeeded, raising just under $US4,000, and the book, “Emoji Dick,” is still available for sale.
An iPhone user myself, I understand. Emojis are fun, and some of the more obvious ones are a quick fix (although, one could argue that we’re simply demoting the way we communicate rather than moving forward by sending tiny pictures instead of texting words, which we do instead of talking on the phone or face-to-face). I use the heart and a few of the smiley faces every once in a while.
While it was a hard sell to convince me that emojis were useful, it was undeniable that they were popular, and beginning to shift the foundation of how we communicate, even if only slightly.
She sent me her most recently used emojis:
Later in the week, Hope and I talked through Facebook chat.
As we typed back and forth about emojis, I thought about a scene in the HBO show GIRLS, where two of the characters argue about the state of their relationship at a party.
Ray: “You know, when I’m not around you, when you just send me a text full of emojis, it is so easy to dismiss you.”
Shoshanna: “What is wrong with emojis?”
Ray: “A panda next to a gun next to a wrapped gift? It makes no sense.”
He’s right. It makes no sense. There’s no translation for a panda next to a gun next to a wrapped gift. And that’s what made this scene so popular among viewers.
New York Magazine’s Vulture created an entire fan fiction-esque text sequence between characters Ray and Shoshanna back in January following the show’s season 2 premiere. We have all of these easy ways to communicate, and yet, the way we choose to utilise can sometimes leave us scratching our heads.
Hope told me she understood Shoshanna’s motives.
“It’s like you could send someone just emojis when you have nothing else to say. It’s a way to say hi without saying hi. In this case, she was probably trying to remind the guy that she was still alive.”
So why not just say hi?
“I don’t know … because now you don’t have to.”
When it comes to communicating with her friends, Hope says she just uses emojis to try to make the conversation a little more aesthetically interesting. She doesn’t know when it started to be an everyday thing, but now she says it’s weird when people don’t use emojis. Again, she reminds me that they’re right there in the keyboard, easy to get to and easy to use.
This is a conversation Hope sent me between her and one of her friends:
Later, when she had to go to class, we agreed to finish up our conversation another time. The next day she texted me, and we finished up the interview in iMessage (I’m in blue):
She went on to tell me she sends an emoji of a rocket ship next to a heart when she wants to “send love” to her friends.
It wasn’t until we had finished talking that I realised we had conducted 90% of our conversation over Facebook chat or text. There were no emails, and only a quick 5 minute phone call. This had nothing to do with whether either of us were in a place where we could talk out loud. Typing, via whatever medium, was apparently the more convenient route to take.
She also mentioned that emojis “lightened” the mood. If someone texted something that could be seen as mean, then an emoji would help make it seem friendlier.
Take the letter “K” for example. As texting became a more normalized way of communicating over the last few years, it’s often been said that sending the one letter “K” (as in “ok”) is considered the worst thing you can ever text (according to Buzzfeed). It comes across as “curt, or mean, or rude” according to Hope.
Why? I had to ask.
Out of the mouths of babes? Maybe not. Screengrabbed from the phones of teens?