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Emojis are words, too: in defense of the 😂

“SMILE, THOUGH YOUR HEART IS ACHING...” sings Nat King Cole and one writer who uses more laughing emojis than periods in their texts. The philosopher Emmanuel Levinas would be proud; with messages normally bereft of all sentience, in the absence of all human contact, emojis leaven the SMS conversation. graphic BY Meghan Holloran | photo editor

Emojis are a fact of life. They have been a constant in our changing world since we entered elementary school, since we got our first phones and began to cultivate our list of “recents.” Emojis have grown with us as we’ve become teenagers and taken on more sophisticated roles in society — like that of Gene Meh in “The Emoji Movie” (because it doesn’t get much more sophisticated than “The Emoji Movie”). They’ve developed a code that has taken conversations to a whole new level (explaining the eggplant emoji to my dad was definitely entertaining), defined the generations and been ridiculed for serving as false emotions. 

One of my favorite shows growing up was Disney Channel’s “Girl Meets World,” a spinoff of the popular 90s show “Boy Meets World.” In the series’ second episode, Cory Matthews begins his class by claiming to his students that “you use emoticons instead of emotions. You’re an unfeeling generation of zombies.” Ever since hearing this and subsequently searching for its truth, the exhibition of this reality has always been something I wanted to rebel against. Yet it’s the exact opposite of what I feel is actually happening. Rather than hiding behind an emoji, the texts I receive are more commonly devoid of any. It’s just plain text. 

One downside of digital communication: Texts don’t have a tone or expression to accompany them. This lack of tone is the whole reason that emojis were created — and the reason I have been described as being addicted to a single emoji in particular (the laughing-crying face).  

Misunderstandings are easy enough to stumble into in real-life, face-to-face interactions, so I do not need any extra help from a digital landscape, thank you kindly. Perhaps it’s ironic to say, but in a world in which being “genuine” is becoming such a valuable descriptor, I believe that the necessity for emojis is gaining.  

Everyone knows that it’s easier to say something difficult when you don’t have to watch the way someone’s expression falls or breaks or panics or angers when you say it. Everyone knows that it’s better to send a plain-text response despite the risk that it’ll read as passive-aggressive because it’s empowering to sit in the sense of superiority that comes in nonchalantly typing an inexpressive message. It’s cool. It’s chill. It’s closed off.  

I use emojis because I feel they express what I’m trying to say. I like that they’re portraying my words as close to the way I’d actually say them. I like emojis because I’m afraid of misunderstandings and the rifts that grow like seeds from their soil. No text is worth making bigger than a conversation.  

Maybe this is putting too much weight on the simplicity of a digital picture, the artistic interpretation of a face that laughs so hard it cries, but it is a testament to the attitude that so many people around me are adopting. Not using emojis is choosing to keep one’s self at bay and thus risk keeping others at arm’s length. No real emotions, just words. Two or three at a time. It’s cool. It’s chill. It’s whatever. 

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