I was sending a text to someone the other day, and it got me thinking.
This person had let me down and I was feeling a little put out, but not enough to be harbouring any resentment. She texted, “Are we all OK?”, in response to which I sent back the word “Yep.” At least, I nearly did. Just before hitting the Send button, I hesitated. We really were OK, but the word “Yep” seemed a little snippy. Would she think I was still angry? Would that makes things awkward between us? So I added a little symbol:
That way, she would know the “Yep” was “Yep, we really are OK,” as opposed to, “Yep, I guess so,” or “Yep, but I’m still a bit sore,” or even, “Not really, but I guess we have to be.” With this little symbol I managed to let her know that yep actually meant yep, and there were no hard feelings. I sent the text, and all is well. We haven’t referred to the slight falling-out since. Have we missed an opportunity?
Emojis have become the standard mode by which we communicate our opinions and emotions. Instead of saying I’m tired, or I’m sad, or I’m struggling with something, or I’m not sure I like that, we search for the appropriate emoji and click. They have becoming an insta-language. Sometimes this saves time, and can be fun and useful. But other times I wonder what’s happening to our “real” language – and to the connections we build with that language.
I’m not going to bang on about how people should always be writing in proper sentences and should never be using text speech or symbols. I’m not that boring (I’m fun at parties, honest), nor am I that ignorant. Language and communication evolves, and so it should. Emojis are part of our culture now, as is texting and messaging and tweeting and Facebooking and WhatsApping. (Don’t get me started about the lack of apostrophe in that last one.)
But it does make me wonder if people are unlearning how to write properly, in full sentences, with care and thought, about important things that matter. I’m also wondering if people are unlearning how to connect with other human beings about those important things. Emojis package up our feelings in neat little cartoon packages and dot them around cyberspace at the click of a button. But emotions are not like that. We are complex beings, and our emotions are all shades, all nuances. In order to connect with one another, we need to talk about them. And writers need to write about them.
Language is not only how we communicate; it’s how we build connections. That’s why storytellers have always been revered throughout history, and why literature and words and books are the lifeblood of a culture. Thousands of years from now I wonder if archeologists will be puzzling over the significance of: