Emoji (and their more primitive cousins emoticons) represent a way to more succinctly express oneself using the fewest characters possible. However, their relevance and interpretation is left wide-open until a shared experience occurs to attach contextual relevance to them.
Naturally, Star Trek TNG tackled this very topic in a (now) iconic episode that is one of my favorites. Here’s a snippet:
Numbers and letters work well for everyday communication. Their logical order of grammatical operations is great at sussing out someones approximate level of education, frequency of written interactivity, demeanor, tone, emotional state, intent, and lots of other subtle queues you would normally assess in person.
But sometimes you just need to 💩.
I think the emoji poop hilariously brings everyone together, and serves as a reminder that everybody does still poop — I.E. every living thing struggles to express themselves, even to creatures that speak the same language, and you either strive to keep up with our ever-evolving methods of communication, or risk being excluded from them.
Emoji makes me think of people that use technology “incorrectly”, like unknowingly spamming strangers on Facebook, emailing passwords back and forth, or
sudo rm -rfing where you shouldn’t. When someone misunderstands or misinterprets the intent, language, or etiquette behind any new-to-them tool, they accidentally (likely unintentionally) cause breakage, be it by damaging a system or offending someone. Without perseverance (or sheer stubborness) this can result in a perpetually negative spiral of never truly comprehending the nuances of those tools due to constant negative feedback rather than learning and celebrating small successes.
This post also gives me a reason to test WordPress.com’s new emoji support, which appears to work pretty well (though I think an emoji-only title results in an empty post slug.)
TL;DR – Emoji is a great way to express yourself when you want to appear casual, and it reminds me of how fragile even the most widely accepted forms of written language have been, are, and will be in the future.