The elfin charm of emojis

Mina Surjit Singh

A couple of days ago, a friend sent me a video of an insensitive, distasteful and sexist act by a stand-up comedian, which surprised me. Preceding his grotesque act on the antics of women recklessly possessed by intermittent bouts of a self(ie)obsession, was his ostensibly amusing take on emojis and emoticons in cell phone texting and multimedia.

This was what really caught my attention. He believed that the extensive use of these icons almost all-over was regressive, something akin to cavemen's drawings or Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs (a language system of alphabets, and pictorial symbols) and, therefore, a threat to human intelligence. 

However, this view is contrary to my admiration for the ingenuity and intellectual competence of their 25-year-old Japanese creator Shigetaka Kurita, who could well envision the emotive potential of his dancing little icons. So, are they really a bane or boon in the midst of a generation stuck in linguistic limbo? Within the increasingly shrinking hyphenated spaces of a digitalised world and an ever-expanding vision of instant gratification, do they serve a significant function or are they a deterrent to our ability to think and communicate? Are they curbing our self-expression or offering graphic support to our inarticulate emotions and thoughts?

The more I focused on their relevance to our present-day discourse, the more was I convinced that these scaled-down characters, with multiple colour-choices as well, have a throbbing life of their own! They actually have the potential to offer multiple strands of interpretation to a text. They function like hash tags or determinants of how words should/could be understood.

These tiny symbols, which have an elfin charm, much in the manner of Milton's dancing fairies and elves in Paradise Lost, have the power to not only transport us virtually but also to offer immense armchair solace in moments of distress and despondency. 

When the spirit willed, but the body denied, when we are disinclined towards engaging in any mental calisthenics, they are an easily accessible medium for effective conveyance of our transient moods, reactions, perceptions and opinions; when we are unable to perform a spontaneous jig or roll on the floor in childlike delight, the diminutive lady in red or the ROTFL give us vicarious gratification by catapulting us swiftly into a happier space.

The ancient Egyptians had thus given us an organic system of communication which has evolved over time into the form of emoji(s), which facilitate quicker interactions, given the accelerated pace of our contemporary times. 

So, for me, emojis are here to stay! Like sunflowers which turn towards one another on cloudy days, we turn to them for some sunshine.