When emojis take over from words

markus winkler wpoa2i3mury unsplashI’ve been lucky enough to be working with a wide range of very different people in recent days. I say “lucky” because I’m told that’s what it is – a new “challenge” I must “embrace”, even if it’s one I might not usually relish.

I’m not mad about change. I understand the Darwin theory about survival of the fittest but I also know it refers to specifics. For example, if you can swim, you stand a better chance of surviving in a situation involving a large amount of water than if you can’t. I appreciate the sense of that but the idea of change for change sake is something I’m happy to leave to others.

So here we go. This change was forced upon me when I was approached and invited to join a group of people, offered payment for my services and flattered into considering it. The final temptation was that I would be working from home. Too good to resist.

So here I am, working with a genuinely diverse group of people who operate out of a number of countries from all over the world. It’s amazing what technology can do.

When I’m on call, I’ll attend a daily meeting via Teams or Zoom and we’ll all get the chance to hear each other’s voices (and sometimes see faces which is good) and decide who’s doing what for the day.

We then work on something called Slack (not necessarily a great motivational name) to let team-mates know what’s happening. We can either write a message on the main notice board or send direct messages if we want to a personal or private conversation.

As you’d expect, each person has their own individual style which I, as the newcomer, have had to learn.

It’s a different world for me and my last time in business. I grew up when the boss was the boss and whether or not I agreed was irrelevant. I didn’t dare to disagree. I was in the fierce world of journalism and could be crushed with a word, a look or a very fierce sentence of abuse. Cowed? Yes, that was me, and many others like me.

It’s good times have changed. I like that. In my time, the mental health of workers was not good. I think I’d prefer to be a worker in this world so I’m not going to complain.

My colleagues know no different. They are young, fresh, certain they are right and as diverse as you could imagine. The one thing they have in common is that they all love an emoji.

You’d have to be from anywhere but Planet Earth not to have come across an emoji.


Can “caring” ever seem too familiar?

The emoji – E for picture, moji for character – comes from Japan. They were created as a short cut to all the characters and uses of the Japanese language and how brilliant was that. Texts could be written in half the time, meanings and thoughts conveyed through just a simple character and everyone was free to get on with their day.

Now, of course, they have morphed into a language of their own, diversifying from a fun language for young people to one adopted by (almost) everyone including, it could be argued, the older ones among us who are keen to remain “on trend”.

Our own culture, which increasingly glorifies the glamour of youth and, is for ever looking at ways to stay young, seems increasingly committed to the charm of the emoji.

It’s more time consuming that you’d think. Instead of writing: “Are you sure you meant to say that?” I’ll find myself adding a little smile or a curious face of something similarly simpering to ensure I don’t come across as too bossy. I have to really think and it’s tiring.

Not only do I have to watch what I write (direct and/or abrupt is out, caring/hesitant is in) but I also have to make sure I’m using the best emoji for the job. Imagine if I add a “roaring with laughter” sign and send it off by mistake when I’m intending to do a “care” or a “whoops” or “apologetic” face. Do I scramble to cancel the notice (it is possible) or do I adopt a brave face and ignore it all? I’m not sure.

Before I started my latest work, I did not use emojis. I’m a word type of person, not a picture type. I didn’t quite see the point of them.

Now, they’re part of my repertoire, at least in one aspect of work. However, I still don’t use them in the “real” world. Why would I when I prefer to communicate and speak directly with my friends.

That brings me to another point. I’ve noticed I’m increasingly unusual in this and my (older) friends are also now scattering their texts with emojis. I receive fewer phone calls than I used to and face-to-face outings are also less than they were in our pre-Covid days. For me at any rate.

My WhatsApp, emails and messages sections of my smartphone light up with colourful memes and emojis but I don’t find them satisfying. If I’m going to be honest, I’d say I find it a bit of a cop-out. The message appears to be that someone is thinking of me but the reality is that they’re not really. They’re just forwarding a joke or a meme that’s been sent to them and so it goes on. It’s not a meaningful conversation.

I find it interesting that the emoji came from a country that is known for its reserve and has now been widely adopted in another country that is always well-known for its reserve.

getty images iubc3fy0hfs unsplash

Phones are fun but communication is key

It’s almost as if we’ve found a language that suits us well. We can appear to be loving, emotional (similar sound to emoji when you think about it) and connected when, in reality and in its extreme form, it could almost be seen as a passive-aggressive response.

For example, you might drop someone a text and ask how they are. You might get a “smiley face” emoji back. You send a thumbs up and that’s the end of that. What is that about?

I was brave – or foolish – enough to challenge a very old friend on this a while ago. We’d had a similar exchange and I’d texted back with irony to say how much I loved emojis because it meant there was no need to interact when a bit of virtual (not virtue in this case) signalling could be done instead. It took about five minutes but she rang back. Result!

I don’t know about you but what I certainly need in this brave new world is a little less emoji action and a little more conversation. I’m human, not some crazy little cartoon person with only half a dozen different facial characteristics. I have so much more to give.

Please pick up the phone or, better still, come round and see me some time!