A Picture Of Emotion

An emoji face under a magnifying glass

I hate emoji.

For those of you who receive unadulterated text messages free from cartoon additives, let me explain. Emoji are those happy little picture images that are often used to punctuate messages with fun expressions of emotion that are not easily conveyed in short bursts of text.

Emoji are cute and prolific. They are the bunny rabbits of communication.

Emoji were first unleashed to the world in Japan. In fact, emoji is a japanese word, and depending on your understanding of the language, either means “picture character” or “annoying smiley face”. Emoji quickly became a hit with young people as a way to liven up boring text messages.

Today there are thousands of emoji in existence that enable the authors of text messages to express literally anything without writing a word. Which is a real problem because it is not clear yet whether emoji is singular or plural.

However, only 722 emoji are officially recognized in the standard Unicode character set used by most computer communication devices. Yes it is true. The consortium of human beings responsible for codifying the digitization of the world’s writing systems are furiously deliberating over the inclusion of additional cat faces.

They are probably really fun at parties.

Not to worry. There are more standardized emoji on the way. This summer an additional 250 Unicode emoji will be released into the wild, including the highly anticipated Reversed Hand with Middle Finger Extended emoji.

Rather controversially there are no emoji representing people of color. So for a while at least, I can expect to receive text messages flipping me off with a racially insensitive finger.

The real problem I have with emoji is that there are too many and they are too small and they are too confusing to use. There are emoji representing faces, people, nature, food, activities, objects, signs, gestures, buildings, signs, flags, and probably the logos of most major corporations.

I am not sure what one would want to convey with a small toilet, but it is there for the sending.

Each emoji has a specific meaning. Unfortunately, it is hard to know exactly what those meanings are. Whereas a picture is worth 1,000 words, emoji are worth only a few. They have descriptive names that read like a menu at a Chinese restaurant: Smiling Face, Smiling Face with Open Mouth, Smiling Face with Open Mouth and Smiling Eyes, Smiling Face with Pan Fried Noodles and Plum Sauce. And so on.

Studies conducted on the 42 facial muscles responsible for emotional expression across humans suggest that there are six basic emotions: anger, fear, surprise, disgust, happiness and sadness. Personally, I experience all of these at the same time each morning when I look in the mirror. Unfortunately, there is no Saggy Face with Beard Stubble and Morning Hair emoji with which I can adequately convey this.

But given the fact that there are still over fifty yellow face emoji choices to represent my particular emotion at any point in time, I am obviously out of touch with my feelings.

Of course, I understand that I probably express the emotion of happiness with a myriad of facial expressions that range from mild amusement to out and out laughter, but do I really need to be able to convey them all?

And if I do, then shouldn’t there be a Contorted Laughing Face that Just Peed in its Pants emoji when Laughing Out Loud acronyms just aren’t enough?

And what about a Frowning Face Smelling Foul Odor emoji? Or the Innocent Face Transmitting Foul Odor emoji?

I’m just saying.

The other day I sent a text to my wife and instead of ending with XXXOOO I inserted a kiss emoji for fun. I had to scroll through 12 screens of teeny tiny images to find one resembling lips. She responded with a curt reply. There was no smiley face in her return message.

Apparently, the suggestive puckered lips emoji I selected conveyed to her that I wanted to make out in fishnet stockings, a short skirt, and high heels after she returned from the store. And that maybe I was a lesbian. I am not really be sure. It was just one of 722 emoji that I don’t understand.

Like many parents my age, I was quickly catapulted into the world of text messaging by my kids. I astutely picked up basic text etiquette, text slang, text abbreviations, and text shortcuts. And in my effort not to embarrass myself with complete sentences, I de-learned a life-long education in grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

So you would think that transmitting pictographs would be easy, simple and fun. Maybe if I received an emoji message with a martini glass and an alarm clock I would be more forgiving.

On the other hand, I would feel just as good receiving a wordy text suggesting it was time for happy hour.

And a smiley face would just be redundant.