When words fail, there’s always an emoji7/29/2015
The Internet is not immune to embarrassing trends. Whether we’re talking America Online chat rooms or keeping a Friendster profile well past 2004, there are dozens of shifts in online communication that, in hindsight, were just silly. Today, we don’t need hindsight to understand that the ridiculous web-enabled discourse of the day is emojis.
If you text, tweet or email with someone under the age of 35, chances are you’ve received some rather confusing messages lately. Not typos or inexplicable abbreviations, (although those are odd as well) but little graphical icons. Battleships, the moon, eggplants, top hats and many more absurd little cartoons have all been invading our online communications. These silly little ideograms, better known as emojis, are currently the hippest form of communication.
Taken from the Japanese symbols 絵文字 (which is read e-moji) and translated to pictogram, emojis are almost as old as the Internet itself. Created in 1999 by Japanese computer programmer Shigetaka Kurita, the original idea was to shorten digital communication and replace long strings of characters that take up valuable typing space. Today, one needs to look no further than Twitter to see that this same principle is still alive and well. The most recent example of the power of emojis came earlier this month when Los Angeles Clipper’s basketball player DeAndre Jordan almost defected to the Dallas Mavericks. When his teammates found out he was leaving but had not yet signed his new contract, they unleashed a string of tweets using only emojis to communicate.
What emojis could possibly explain this awkward and tense situation? Simple: cars, planes, helicopters, trains and many more. To the uninitiated, little icons of planes, helicopters, cars, trucks, trains, a banana and a boat mean nothing. However, in emoji speak, it speaks volumes. Jordan’s teammates were saying they were coming for him by all means available to bring him back to Los Angeles, and nothing was going to stop them. Except for the banana and the boat. Those were an inside joke about one teammate being on vacation in the Caribbean.
Either way, this incident was a major coming out party for emojis. Even with 17 years of history and being prevalent on Internet message boards and Facebook, this was a complete discourse among millionaires about their emotions and efforts. As great of a communication tool as the Internet is, it’s still virtually impossible to communicate subtext, sarcasm or showcase non-verbal communication. The specialty of emojis, however, is subtext, sarcasm and showcase.
Some of the more popular emojis appear nonsensical but are actually filled with silent commentary. Instead of spilling anger and paragraphs of rage all over the Internet, why not simply use the red-faced frowning emoji with steam coming out it’s nose? If you’re feeling sick and don’t want to explain your state in detail, then text the most popular emoji: a lumpy brown pile with eyes — and no I am not going to describe this emoji (I’m not 8 years old).
Calling emojis childish or sophomoric is missing the point. They are everywhere and becoming more popular by the day. Emojis have reached such saturation that Sony is developing a film around the little icons. Hey, if Legos and GI Joes can get the Hollywood treatment, who am I to say “Emoji: The Feature Film” couldn’t work?
Still there is something adolescent about communicating with little cartoon icons instead of using words. Symbols like these seem like something more likely to pop up in notes passed between middle school classes than included in serious discussions. Whether we like it or not, nearly 20 years of history means emojis are probably not going anywhere. CV
Patrick Boberg is a central Iowa creative media specialist. Follow him on Twitter @PatBoBomb.