It's often said that emotions are hard to convey in written form. But our lives are now run by our tech – we text, instant message and email much more than we speak face to face. So which language is best for communicating your excitement, sarcasm, confusion or exhaustion? The answer: emoji.
The early lazy fingers' guide to communicating was the original text speak. It helped us get our thoughts across more quickly, but emotional meaning was well and truly lost:
'Fine. C U l8r.'
'R U mad @ me?'
'U sound mad.'
When emojis first appeared as a new communication tool my inner literary, grammar-perfect snob rolled her eyes in disgust. Stupid little pictures. Why does everyone use the aubergine one? And why is that monkey embarrassed? They were adopted early on by teenagers but as I was now a) a decade older than them and b) a writer I discarded them as a fad that 'certain people' thought were cute. You know, those people who played Candy Crush on every commute solidly for two years.
I shared the same view as the inimitable Robin (Rebel Wilson) in How To Be Single when she warns Alice: 'If you use an emoji I will tit punch you.' I felt the same way – WHY do you need to resort to a line of smileys to tell me how your day is? Tell me what you want for dinner DO NOT TEXT ME A TACO.
However, as you've probably guessed, in a screamingly short space of time I became fluent in emoji. I wish I'd taken to French in the same way. I can select the right emoji from the hundreds on offer in a matter of milliseconds. Friend having a shit day? Run out of wine and need to warn flatmates? Running late for work? No problem, I have the pictorial answer.
The thing is, there is something about emojis that somehow allows a greater depth of meaning than a long explanation. As a writer with an often wistful and nostalgic approach to the written form I'm not sure what I feel about this, but it's true. Perhaps it's just reinforcing the oft-repeated 'a picture paints a thousand words' cliché. But more than that, emoji-speak is breaking language barriers more quickly, and conveying our emotions in apparently more detail than we ever could.
One friend of mine (who gave me the inspiration for this piece) said that she knows someone who communicates with her suppliers in Korea through the medium of emoji. Shipment late? Don't speak Korean? No problem when you have a row of emojis for box -> plane -> clock and question mark. Another friend's Spanish relatives can't easily speak to her English speaking boyfriend, but they can all chat on the group What's App via the medium of emoji. 'Sometimes pretty in-depth conversations about our day and plans for our next trip' she told me, ending with a emoji crying with laughter and that hand sign for 'perfection'.
For me, the reason I ended up drinking the emoji kool-aid was the brillant array of 'feeling faces' offered. I'm naturally a spiky communicator – what I consider witty and playful can come across as bitchy and abrupt (so I'm told). Plus, the 'I've had a shit day' can mean a myriad of things until you add a few helpful emoticons: champagne bottle, row of wine glasses, upside-down smiley = clearly hungover. Exasperated face, books, computer and clock = too much to do. Unamused face + gun = I need to leave this job. You get the point.
This reductive communication might seem a bit more depressing if it wasn't for the fact that, well, emojis are kinda fun. They lighten a situation. If I had to write reams of text to make my point, it makes everything seem so much heavier. Instead, I can send an emoji SOS and bore my friends with the detail over a glass of wine (red wine glass + ? + thumbs up). Rather than take away from real life conversations I think emoji-speak unwittingly supports them. Having lengthy conversations via text and email can often feel like justification for not seeing them in real life, after all, it feels like you've just caught up. But quick-fire emoji gets across the point without losing the desire to see my friends and family to elaborate in person.
And those times when you really don't want to see someone face to face to explain why you ended up drinking too many mojitos and went home with the barman? Then 'embarrassed monkey face' is all you need to say.