Modern Hieroglyphs – Cross Cultural Communication
It’s a modern world for the men and women of 2015, but maybe not as modern as some might expect. There should be phones built into our teeth at this point. “EyePhones,” as Futurama had depicted in an episode back in 2010. There should be hover boards and hover cars and a wardrobe that depicts a metallic and neon mashup from the 70’s and 80’s. But there’s not. Maybe our modern culture stepped back into time, back to our primitive days making cave drawings. Maybe the entire world became Egyptian overnight, and we’ve started using pictures again to communicate like the hieroglyphs did. While it could be argued that the addition of emoji to our written language could be considered childish, lacking imagination or could possibly dumb down our communication skills, the addition of emoji has helped language by allowing us to communicate more effectively across cultures, helped to start break down barriers between cultures, and even allowed us to understand and be more accepting of certain mental health issues.
In the past 5-8 years, the world has started using “emojis” in a majority of our virtual conversations with each other. Emoji is derived from the Japanese culture where “e” means picture, and “moji” means character (“Emoji”). Put them together and you have a picture character, or an “emoji.” And those are just what they say they are, a character in picture form. Emoji’s were created in the 90’s as a way for Japans more advanced technological culture to send a 12 x12 pixel image to someones beeper. A message became more personalized and more human. Instead of just saying, “I love you,” you could now say “I love you ♥,” instantly adding a touch of emotion and connection.
Some people in the world have tried to argue that we’ve stepped back in our written forms since the addition of emojis. Jonathan Jones, an art and design writer for TheGuardian.com talks about this in his article, “Emoji is dragging us back to the dark ages – and all we can do is smile.” According to his article, “[e]moji, the visual system of communication that is incredibly popular online, is Britain’s fastest-growing language according to Professor Vyv Evans, a linguist at Bangor University.” Even though it’s become the “fastest-growing language,” Jones goes on to say “that Emoji is not ‘progress’ by any definition. It is plainly a step back.” Jones states he prefers to “stick with the language of Shakespeare.” If this is a step back, perhaps to the Egyptian times, maybe we should take a history lesson to see how advanced the Egyptians truly were. They used hieroglyphics which were pictures, to communicate. The Egyptians were a very advanced civilization for their time. They had astronomy, medicine, pyramids, and even blown glass. Trying to argue that we’ve taken “a step back” isn’t quite a valid argument considering that the world’s previous cultures were very advanced for their time.
While this may be the case for some and considered a step back, others argue that the use of emojis just doesn’t allow us to be creative or put a lot of support behind us as individuals with brains. Maybe people have clearly forgotten the use of acronyms in the past. The use of emojis is a very large step up from acronyms. Who could decipher that “LLAP” (NetLingo) would mean “live long and prosper?” Instead with emojis, now you could send someone a Spock’s hand from Star Trek [ ]. This is a very creative use of emojis. However, Mary Mann, a writer for medium.com, discusses the idea that sending emojis makes us dumber. In her article, “Everybody Smiley Poops,” she states, “[e]mojis are weird. And cute. And teensy. My mom uses them but calls them ‘those phone pictures.’” She goes on to cite President Obama later in her article saying, “President Obama referred to them in a speech as ‘little emoji or whatever those things are.’” Mann seems to feel foolish when she sends just emojis to a friend or family member. She goes on to say on some days her and her sister communicate purely in emojis, due to the fact her sister is a new mom and it’s difficult to send a full sentence sometimes. Sometimes sending the glass of wine emoji is easier to ask to go out for a drink then sending an entire text about it. Mann goes on to say that “emojis might lead us to ‘stop using [full English] words altogether.’” Imagining a world where we stop using words altogether is rather difficult. There are plenty of highly opinionated people on the internet who would be very upset if they could only use emojis and not a written word. The Yelp! critics would be out of luck.
On the other side of the spectrum, emojis have allowed some development in the ability to figuring out where someone could land on the Autism/Asperger’s scale. In 2013, artist Genevieve Belleveau had a performance art piece in the Emoji Art Show in Manhattan (Tso). Her piece, aptly named “Emoji Autism Facial Recognition Therapy,” had an Emoji Recognition Chart with 30 different emojis on it. She asked attendees to use the emojis presented to them as a way to explain a hypothetical situation to someone such as a breakup.
If you chose the red-faced emoji (which, according to Siri, is pouting) to answer that hypothetical question, you would not land as highly on the spectrum as someone who crafted a detailed reply using the pig, the knife, and the broken heart. Your ability to recognize the meaning of each emoji and sufficiently understand the nuances to string them together determines your place on the scale.
According to Tso, “Belleveau explained how someone who gives a blunt, literal answer to her query might show signs of Asperger’s versus someone whose answer is more nuanced.” While a persons answer doesn’t 100% mean that they may be Autistic or have Asperger’s, it could allow them to better understand how those disorders may work, which could decrease any misunderstanding and stigmas that surround people who suffer from autism/Asperger’s.
Along with breaking down stigmas, the addition of over 200 emojis in the keyboard of our devices has the ability to transcend cultural separations around the world, allowing us to communicate more effectively. A smile is universal. Emoji has over 10 different ways to send a smile, depending on if you feel like laughing when you smile, or even smirk. In 2014, Unicode, the company that created the modern emoji, made racially different emojis. The addition of diverse emojis has aided in allowing people of color to no longer defaulting to a “white experience.” It also allows caucasians to not have to default to a yellow person. Now if someone wants to send a super tan Santa, they can. As well as the addition of same-sex couple and family emojis. In “The upside of emoji,” an article written by Julie Kliegman on theweek.com, she said, “in 2012, same-sex couples joined [the emoji keyboard.]” Diversity exists in the world around us, we should be able to depict a same-sex couple via emoji if needed.
Emojis have the ability to break down cultural differences even between the hearing world and deaf world. Speaking with their hands, the deaf culture has spent years petitioning to get the “I love you,” hand sign in the emoji keyboard, in all skin colors. While not an actually an ASL sign, the “rock on” hand was added recently [ ]. ASL signs should be added to the emoji keyboard. This could help bridge the gap between deaf and hearing people. More hearing people would be exposed to signs on a regular basis and in turn start understanding them and could potentially stop staring at deaf people conversing in ASL in public. Kliegman goes on to quote Mary Mann’s essay in saying, “‘the flip side is that in this potential future [of using emojis in common language] the entire human race is communicating with each other,’ she wrote. ‘Could it really be that the great promise of the World Wide Web has been achieved by the likes of unamused face, blowing kiss face, and smiley poop?’” All around the world, people are using emojis to share stories and communicate, all while not learning the language of another culture.
Along with the ability to break down barriers, emojis are allowing us to possibly communicate about things that trouble us, without verbally or even writing out what’s going on. There is a nonprofit out there that is dedicated to helping troubled kids communicate more effectively with the adult world. BRIS is a Swedish organization that designed an app with the idea of breaking language barriers for children to get help from domestic violence situations and away from being a victim of abuse. In Kliegman’s article on theweek.com she writes,
The organization’s app offers emoji that depict a black eye, verbal abuse, and suicidal thoughts, among other harmful scenarios. The idea is that children and teenagers who need help might feel more comfortable sending an adult a picture instead of trying to find the words to explain something painful, a BRIS spokeswoman told PBS. The emoji are also meant to help children break language barriers.
Calling a suicide help line, or even an abuse phone number can be difficult. Trying to ask someone you don’t know for help is painful and hard. Telling an adult that someone else is hurting you is even harder. With this app, the ability for a teen or child to send something as simple as an emoji of a black eye could potentially help save their lives, their livelihood, and get help quicker. Emojis have changed our world in many ways, but it’s difficult to see the negative sides when there are so many ways emojis can help us.
While it may be so much easier for someone to send a quick message with emojis, they have a slim chance of replacing the “Shakespearean” language. We may still use phrases such as “with bated breath,” or “there’s method in my madness,” but most of the Shakespearean tongue is long since dead. Maybe in a few more centuries emojis will change, or even cease to exist. But for now, emojis have helped us break down barriers and communicate more openly and effectively across borders and languages. They’ve allowed us to make pregnancy announcements, they’ve been added to pop culture as halloween costumes, and they’ve even taken place as body art in tattoos. Emojis are here to stay, at least for hopefully another 30+ years.
“Emoji.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2015.
Jones, Johnathan. “Emoji Is Dragging Us Back to the Dark Ages – and All We Can Do Is Smile.” The Guardian. N.p., 27 May 2015. Web. 2 Dec. 2015.
Kliegman, Julie. “The Upside of Emoji.” The Upside of Emoji. N.p., 01 Oct. 2015. Web. 02 Dec. 2015.
Mann, Mary. “Everybody Smiley Poops – Matter.” Medium. N.p., 05 Aug. 2014. Web. 02 Dec. 2015.
“NetLingo List of Chat Acronyms & Text Shorthand.” Netlingo. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Dec. 2015.
Tso, Phoenix. “How Emojis Could Determine Your Place on the Autism Spectrum.” Jezebel. N.p., 26 Dec. 2013. Web. 02 Dec. 2015