I support emojis during this difficult time

Commentary: Our emoticon friends have gotten lots of bad press this week thanks to "The Emoji Movie." Let’s not forget all they’ve done for us.

Daniel Van Boom Senior Writer
Daniel Van Boom is an award-winning Senior Writer based in Sydney, Australia. Daniel Van Boom covers cryptocurrency, NFTs, culture and global issues. When not writing, Daniel Van Boom practices Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, reads as much as he can, and speaks about himself in the third person.
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Daniel Van Boom
3 min read

It's been a tough week for emojis.

"The Emoji Movie," which came out last week, has been universally rejected by critics. The film seems to have united people in hatred to an extent that's an achievement in itself in these divisive times.  

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It sure does. It suuuure does. 

Sony Pictures

But despite being part of a cinematic catastrophe, and somehow making T.J. Miller not funny, I'm here to defend your value, emojis. You save us from ourselves. 

Texting is great as a utility, but it's a total bummer for any conversation more complex than "Where are you? OK, I'll meet you there with my best selfie stick." It's difficult to precisely embed a text with any shade of emotion, and that often leads to miscommunication.

This happens in even the most pedestrian of situations. "I'm excited to catch up" read a text I received recently. The lack of punctuation led me to believe the sender was not, in fact, excited to catch up. If you knew me, you wouldn't blame her.

Of course, I'm a crazy person who always assumes the worst. But I'm pretty sure it's not just me who's tormented by texts.

In the '70s and '80s, Albert Mehrabian, then a UCLA psychology professor, found that during conversations about feelings or attitudes, we interpret very little from words, and much more from tone and body language. In fact, Mehrabian says it's 55 percent body language, 38 percent tone and 7 percent words.

Yeah, 7 percent. Other academics have contested Mehrabian's specific findings, but broadly, they make sense. If your friend gives you a big smile and hug and cheerfully says "I hate you," you'd naturally assume it's an affectionate joke, since the smile, hug and happy tone override the words. Incidentally, that's how my mum greets me when I go back home. 

This is why we need emojis. There are over 1,100 of them, and there's almost always one that evinces the vibe you're looking for.

Emojis can distinguish between LOLing and ROFLing. Emojis can communicate whether you're crying loudly or crying at a normal decibel. And of course, there's an emoji dedicated to the humble buttocks. Those emojis alone cover most of my needs.

This all works in reverse too -- sometimes it's about the emojis people don't use. If friends tell me they've had a bad day but use an emoji, I figure it's been an annoying day -- because the emoji denotes some degree of whimsy. If there's no emoji, there's more of a chance something serious has gone down.


Naturally, young people, raised as we were by the internet, have a greater inclination toward emoji than do older folk. In a study conducted in June by Harris Poll, 36 percent of millennials (18-34) said "visual expressions" -- emojis, GIFs and stickers -- communicate thoughts better than words do. Less than 20 percent of respondents over the age of 65 percent said the same thing, Time reports.

Of the 2,000 respondents, 80 percent agreed that emojis, GIFs and stickers improve communication over just words alone. It's good most people are on the emoji bandwagon, considering how many are on the instant-messaging bandwagon: both WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger have over a billion users.

With billions instant-messaging each day, we need emojis. Now more than ever. I know I do. Concerned about coming off as rude, my texts are always littered with cheerful emojis -- or a few cheeky exclamation marks. Both of these are used preferentially to full stops. In a casual conversation with me, a period is taken as a sign of hostility.

So yes, let's all mock "The Emoji Movie." I definitely will, even though I haven't seen it. My hatred will be blind and fierce. But let's take a second to remember emojis, our friends of many years. Let us not kick them when they are down. That'd be a total eggplant move. 

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