Emojis. In today’s online environment they are everywhere. We may not have realized it, but since Apple added an emoji keyboard to its iOS software in 2011 emojis have slowly but surely become an inescapable, dare I say integral part of our daily lives. 😂 has replaced LOL. 😳 has replaced OMG. In some cases, 😘 has even replaced “I love you”!
Today, 92 percent of active internet users use emojis. Almost half of all Instagram comments contain an emoji. Moms love emojis. Kids love emojis. Sony Pictures produced an (consensually terrible) Emoji Movie in 2017! So whats up with these things? Why are they so popular? What are we doing with them?
By most standards, emojis are just a fun and goofy way to get your point across. But what if they are much more than that? Here’s what I’m trying to say, and it’s going to sound ridiculous so bear with me: Could emojis be a regression toward a new, universal spinoff of Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphics?
It’s Already Here!
No, were not speaking in a language of emojis just yet, but emojis definitely have more influence than they probably should. In multiple instances in the past few years, emojis have been the deciding factor in legal cases. In 2015, a judge was asked to rule on the meaning of “:-P” as it pertained to an online stalking and harassment lawsuit. In this case, the judge ruled that an emoticon “does not materially alter the meaning of the text message.” However, in 2017 a court in Israel ruled a set of emojis to be legally binding. A couple sent a message to a property owner about an ad for an apartment saying:
“Good morning 😊 we want the house 💃🏻 👯 ✌️☄️ 🐿️ 🍾 just need to go over the details…When suits you?”
The landlord pulled the ad and then the couple disappeared. The property owner sued for reliance and was awarded the equivalent of $2200. The court ruled:
The…text message sent by Defendant…included a smiley, a bottle of champagne, dancing figures and more. These icons convey great optimism. Although this message did not constitute a binding contract between the parties, [it] naturally led to the Plaintiff’s great reliance on the Defendants’ desire to rent his apartment…These symbols, which convey to the other side that everything is in order, were misleading.”
Beyond their legal implications, the beauty of emojis is that they’re universally understood. Although I had to translate the message from that case, you knew what the emojis meant, didn’t you? Wherever we are in the world, we’re able to understand facial expressions. 🐢 is a turtle no matter where you go. Emojis bring these universal principles to text. A recent study out of Bangor University in the UK found that 72% of 18-25 year olds find it easier to communicate through emoji than written word. With emojis, I can communicate with almost anyone, without knowing a letter in their alphabet. Finally a universal language! Obviously we would lose certain complexities of written language, but the Egyptians did it, so why can’t we!
You can’t be serious?
Okay, no I’m not serious. I’m pulling your leg a little bit here. It’s pretty unrealistic to think that we could communicate completely through emojis in written language. Johnathan Jones with The Guardian argued that emojis are a huge step backward for humanity, and that we could be losing the refined language of Shakespeare. I think that’s a little bit extreme. Emojis aren’t going to replace English any time soon. They’re really nothing like hieroglyphics to begin with. Hieroglyphics contain phonograms, logograms, and determinatives. Yes they limited linguistic advancement, but they were a lot more than pictures. Jones is right, people are going to use emojis to express themselves over text, but those people probably aren’t Shakespeare to begin with. The great writers of the world will continue to compose beautiful poetry. It’s going to be okay, Johnathan.
Emojis don’t need to overwhelm our language, but my hope is that they can play a supporting role. We live in a world where we write now more than ever before. Without tone and inflection, text messages can be terribly misunderstood. Emojis are there to give us the security blanket we need when letters alone aren’t enough.
There appear to be practical uses for emojis as well. A recent study found emoji-using push notifications are opened 85 percent more. The study says that this is because people react to them the same way they react to seeing peoples faces, so emojis tap into the emotional rather than the logical part of the brain. Not surprisingly, emojis using push notifications grew 163 percent from 2015 to 2016.
Although I wasn’t able to find much about emojis being collected for big data, I would imagine its only a matter of time before emojis are a dominant source of information collected on social media sites.
Hopefully you made it this far into the article without thinking I was completely full of nonsense. Although emojis are not hieroglyphics, it’s funny to think that we are returning to using picture messages 3000 years later in any fashion. Slang comes and goes in the English language all of the time, but I would imagine that by nature of their practicality emojis have a bit more staying power than “Far out!” or “Tubular!” But who am I to say… 🤷♂️