“You just take it too seriously,” F. has told me over the thirty-five years we’ve been friends. Over the decades, the it has referred to various situations I’ve felt strongly about. From having to deal with unnecessary and time-consuming bureaucracy to people not being punctual, to any other issue I can’t help sinking my teeth into and not letting go. “You just take it too seriously,” she says, and I shrink into a mental corner, feeling stupid. Recently, when her it referred to my growing dislike of social media, I snapped, “Well, I am a serious person. Life is serious business. So are human relations.” It was a breakthrough. My response may have been somewhat over-theatrical, I admit, given the relative banality of the topic, but oh, how good it felt finally to retort.
My deleting my social media accounts is not a matter of if but of when. When I find a way of receiving some of the information I require by other means. When I make more friends who don’t use it or when my dearest, current ones agree to keep in touch with me by phone or e-mail. When I become so well established in my various occupations that people will feel I’ve earnt my right to mild eccentricity. When I pluck up the courage, basically. I will probably keep my Twitter account, but I am getting closer and closer to exiting what could, if one were to use pretentious synonyms, be called “Countenance Tome” (I’m not going to use the platform’s real name and give satisfaction to its algorithms). There are many reasons for my dislike of Foxtroot Bravo) and they’re all entirely personal and subjective – and would produce way too long a blog post (there are a couple of other things I’d like to scribble before the weekend is over and work restarts tomorrow), so I’ll name just one – possibly one of my main pet hates: emojis.
I hate emojis. There, I’ve said it. To me, they represent a Me, Tarzan – you, Jane form of communication. Here we are, a species with the gift of millions of words, and yet we resort more and more to a narrow range of one-size-fits-all, software-generated symbols. Not only that, but most of us use, re-use and abuse an even smaller number of emojis than the set provided by our computers. ❤️, 👍 and, the one that makes me want to reach out for a cricket bat, 😂, are basically the standard.
“Ever the purist!” my much-cherished friend S. said. “Well, I like emojis,” she added.
I’m not stopping her or anyone else from liking them or using them. I use them, too. They are very convenient for a quick acknowledgement when you either haven’t got time for a longer response – or when you don’t know particularly well the person who wrote the post.
“But that’s what people do!” S. continues to say.
So? Does it means I have to? Is going along with the majority the only way to be liked? To be accepted? Whatever happened to trying to be true to yourself? And individuality?
My issue with emojis is that they encourage laziness of expression. When I taught English as a Foreign Language (please see English: the Fast-Food Burger of the Language World) – mainly to business executives – course participants asked me time and time again why they needed to learn more than one word for the same item or concept. I tried to explain that what I was trying to do was like providing a palette with as many different colours as possible, so that they could choose the most appropriate ones, both for the occasion and as an expression of them as individuals. What I was trying to achieve was to give them as wide a choice as I could. Everybody would agree that the more colours you have at your disposal, the wider the scope for painting. Isn’t it the same with words? Isn’t it the case that the more words you have at your command, the more choice, and consequently freedom, you have when expressing your thoughts – so hard to channel into the inevitably constricted vessels that words are, as it is?
I worry that yielding to laziness, reaching out for what’s easiest – the staples on the coffee table next to our sofa – and making it our default setting, may lead to a gradual atrophy of independent, original thinking. If we don’t flex our brains to seek the exact, right word we want, and always pick up the ones on the coffee table next to us, won’t our thoughts become equally basic? I believe strongly that the process works both ways: the more creative our thinking, the more need for a wide variety of words, but, equally, the more words we use, the more we stimulate the production of thoughts and ideas. And, no, I can’t prove this scientifically. It just makes sense to me.
Similarly, I wonder if using emojis all the time may lead to our forgetting how to express our feelings, our emotions, with the accuracy and faithfulness they deserve. As a child, I always found it slightly disturbing when, when someone was asked how he or she feels about something, he or she replied, “Oh… don’t know, really…” I no longer find it disturbing, but I do find it dispiriting. Like watching someone fumbling in the fog.
Emojis are convenient, like a portion of “convenience” food after an exhausting day: a bag of chips from the local take-away when we don’t have the energy to wash and trim five kinds of fresh herbs for our salad. I sometimes stick emojis at the bottom of someone’s post, sometimes I search for one, appropriate word, and other times I construct a sentence or a paragraph.
The problem with laziness is that it becomes addictive, until we let it define us because we’ve forgotten how delectable it can be to flex those muscles of expression. If, every now and then, we get our posteriors off that sofa next to the coffee table with the usual emojis, and walk to the other side of the room in search of words to express how we feel, we might remember that there are other rooms in the house and even an outdoor area – we might even feel taller as we stride away from that comfy sofa.
Emojis are our assistants, our servants. Every so often, let’s remind them who’s boss.
There, I’ve said it. And if I’m too serious, so be it.
End of rant. [Gets off soapbox, smiles, winks, a cheeky glint in her eye].