My 9-year-old daughter sent my smartphone an angry emoji Friday morning from school during her recess.
I messaged her back: “Why are you mad?”
She didn’t respond. I wondered what I’d done to make her angry enough to warrant the icon of a frowning face with licks of fire coming from its head. Maybe someone at school had done something to upset her. Or maybe, because she’s a preteen, she just decided she wanted to be mad for a little while.
As every minute passed without a response, my disdain for emojis grew more and more.
With my younger two daughters, these symbols, such as cartoon faces or hand gestures, are their best way to communicate with us. As they matured and wandered farther from us, we got them watches that allow them to send simple messages or receive calls from us. The down side is it only allows 30 characters, so they often rely on emojis.
Reading these emojis reminds me of the helplessness I felt when I started taking French classes my freshman year of high school. It’s a foreign language, and I just don’t understand what it’s trying to say.
The idea of summing everything in your life up in one cartoon image just doesn’t work for me. I can barely tell a story about a five-minute incident in less than 600 words. I resist Twitter because of its 140 character limitation. I once responded to my daughter’s text of “K” (short for OK by one whopping letter) by responding “LMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ.”
How am I supposed to comprehend just one cartoon icon?
I don’t even know what some of these pictures are. Some are easy to interpret, such as the dancing one, the one waving or the winking guy. But in one, I can’t tell if he has the biggest snot-bubble on earth or if he’s crying. In another, I can’t tell if he’s nervously raising his hand to answer a question or if he’s sweating while blocking out the sun on a hot day. I almost sent my oldest daughter a text with something I thought was a swirl of chocolate ice cream once before realizing it was a swirl of something much more fecal.
Apparently it’s confusing enough that there’s a website, emojipedia.org, dedicated to educating us what they mean, along with informing us when they became part of Unicode and the officially approved list of emojis.
One of my favorite phrases is “words have meaning.” If you choose the right word with the right meaning, you can alleviate confusion from most people who understand the words. If you choose the wrong words, well, that just leads to confusion.
These emojis seem to just add to the confusion. It’s another way of communicating without saying anything. They’re the digital equivalent of when I nod my head at someone I know in public, an acknowledgement that I recognize you but little else.
On Saturday morning, I finally got around to asking my 9-year-old why she sent me the angry emoji, figuring whatever riled her probably had subsided by then.
She said she showed a friend of hers how to send an emoji on her watch, using me as the test case. The friend chose the angry face. Why? She just thought it looked funny.