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I remember the first time I saw the anomalous punctuation at the end of a sentence.  :o)

I knew it wasn't a typo because my friend had used the same aberration multiple times throughout her letter. 

"Turn it sideways and look at it!" she prompted me over the course of our e-mail conversation.  Remember those? Remember e-mail, that archaic messaging service we use today solely for the delivery of resumes and  communicating with our accountants and help desks? Emojis are THAT old. 

Craning my neck, I finally figured it out.  A little happy face. How cute. How original. How unique to my cute and original friend. 

Several years later the happy faces were everywhere, and they had all sorts of different things to say. For one thing, they weren't all happy. The parentheses, we quickly learned, could be flipped either way. :( Many of them winked. ;) Some kissed. :-x Most of them did not have noses, though my friend has hung onto hers until this day in her e-mail signature. 

¯\_(ツ)_/¯  Whatever. 

I was fascinated by these things we'd come to call 'smileys' and what they meant for us as communicators.  I wrote a paper for one of my classes (I was completing my Masters in Education at the time) arguing that they were the prophetic equivalent of Orwell's Newspeak, meant to limit our freedom of thought by limiting vocabulary-- one of the things that makes our life rich. As a writer-at-heart, I take language quite seriously and appreciate the nuances that just the write word or phrase can add to a text.  I know that a picture is worth a thousand words, but THESE pictures?  By virtue of their ubiquity alone (well there's a contradiction in terms!), they were, figuratively, the literal equivalent of junk food or pop music... both of which I love... but still,  they were cheap! They cheapened the language!  Not worth more than one word, at most.  


I can't say that I totally disagree with my past self.  The emoji now illustrated, animated, and celebrated has become almost a necessity in order to reinforce the true intentions behind your words. As opposed to letting your words speak for themselves, which is what they were brought up to do.  They have become, in many ways, a substitute for punctuation. In some circumstances, I think they are even a necessity. How many times have you added a smiley face at the end of an otherwise difficult statement-- just to soften the blow?  "I'm sorry, I can't lend u those headphones... I need them tonite :) "  You've said sorry, you have no obligation to lend your headphones, and you've provided a very legitimate excuse, replete with modern day abbreviations. Shouldn't that be enough? Are you so concerned that your reader will be insulted that you must offer a typographical teddy bear to soften the blow? 

I said above that I can't totally disagree with my past self, but on the other hand, you may have noticed on, say, the home page of this website, that I am not impervious to emojis.   Have I succumbed? Caved to popular opinion? Riding the wave of fad?

Well, yes, yes and yes, to some degree.  Language is a fluid institution.  Maybe to some degree it's noble to try and resist what I (like so many grownups before me!) view as the degradation of language yet th're is only so far thee can wend without being hath left behind.  

Kids these days!

Seriously, though, however much I may feel like emojis are stifling our imaginations and literary prowess, they can also be viewed as a really useful tool.  Let us not forget, after all, that emojis represent faces. These faces represent feelings. Feelings-- our own and other people's-- are the reason that we need empathy.  Also, emojis are extremely simplified pictorial versions of faces feeling things. Happy, sad, grumpy, thoughtful, poopy. However, if you try, as a group to come up with a single word to describe any one of those images, you will probably come up with a number of different answers.  

There is a concept in web design called WYSIWYG (pronounced whizzy-wig).  It stands for What You See Is What You Get.  It means that, like in Microsoft Word, you can see what your finished product will look like, as opposed to seeing it through characters, code and commands, like a computer programmer would.  

In fact, WYSIWYG is not a 'concept', because we're not talking philosophy here, we're talking computer science. WYSIWYG is type of user interface, which is an even better way to understand why emojis can be such a useful starting point in teaching empathy.   In the real world, what you see is not what you get. Some people are really good at putting on  a happy face 😁when underneath they feel grumpy 😖.  Some people look grumpy all the time when, in fact, they are quite content. 😌 When teaching empathy, we first attempt to asses our own feelings in the moment, which is harder than it may seem. We learn when to relate to the face that people choose to present and when it's appropriate to try and go deeper.  

As for softening the blow; Yes.   Yes. Softening the blow using an emoji, or a few extra heartfelt worlds if thou art living in the past is a large part of what empathy means. We don't always have be patronizing or condescending to one another or assume that the recipient of our communications is a lily-livered, jelly kneed individual.  However, it is valuable to know how and when to add some sugar, or whatever spice is necessary, as we navigate the people around us. 

This lesson-- the idea of softening the blow, of adding some padding to my communications--- both face-to-face and through media, is one that I learned very gradually over the course of my life. I am not mean, but I am pretty tough by nature, and it took some difficult experiences to learn that not everyone has the same constitution as me.  

As educators, parents, managers, and other people in positions of leadership, it's important to make sure that people in our care are given instruction and guidance towards becoming a more emphatic society.  

I guess that if you are going to argue in favour of emojis, I only have one response at this point:  If 't be true thee can't did beat those folk, joineth those folk!

Incidentally, while researching this post a bit, I learned that the vertical - style, mostly two or three character emojis are considered 'western.' Eastern emojis are horizontal, like this: (・_・), and there are other social and cultural groups who've developed their own emoji chatter. Kind of like sign language, I guess. 

In terms of artistic impression, here are some of my faves

//0‑0\\  John Lennon

| ̄ ̄| _☆☆☆_ ( ´_⊃`)  stereotypical American

>°))))彡 a fish

*\0/*  cheerleader

5:‑)  Elvis Presley    :)

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