The Big Issue : Edition 508
culture police Fiona Scott-Norman THE BIG ISSUE 29 MARCH – 7 APRIL 2016 29 ILLUSTRATIONBYGREGBAKES;ORIGINALPHOTOGRAPHBYMILESSTANDISH SOMETIMES EMOTIONS ARE MORE COMPLEX THAN THE CLICK OF A BUTTON. Sad Face At the end of February, Facebook rolled out their new “reaction” buttons. Emojis representing “sad”, “haha”, “angry”, “wow” and “love” now accompany the familiar “like” thumbs up. God, I hate them. Apart from the fact that the entire suite would have been more entertainingly represented by Snow White’s dwarves, I can’t see the win in reducing our emotional reactions and engagement to five cartoon symbols. When my mum, Norah, was dying towards the end of 2014, it was all over Facebook. I freely shared the best of her: photos of her expression when my honey, Greg, dressed up as a Grenadier Guard to delight her; jokes she made about death; the short story she wrote that was published in The Big Issue. It was a rich, dark, hilarious, moving time. When she died there was an avalanche of comments. I am beyond grateful there was no “sad” button for people to hit. If you’ve discharged your emotional wad, why would you linger? No quantity of crying emojis substitutes for friends struggling to find the right words. For taking the time to articulate what is, actually, a cauldron of emotion. Regret, sorrow, sympathy, fear, mortality, gratitude, melancholy, loss, pain, empathy, love. One emoji to cover all that? It’s like giving Raphael three tubes of red, blue and yellow poster paint, and wondering why you don’t get a chiaroscuro masterpiece. The pro-emoji argument seems to be, “Excuse me, but if you think language can’t be pictures, then tell that to the ancient Egyptians LOL.” Which would make a lot more sense if you could point me in the direction of all that great ancient Egyptian literature. Pictures are just symbols. They are a reduction, like stock. A litre of chicken stock will never be a substitute for a chicken. And an eggplant is no substitute for desire. * Spoiler alert. Me. **Flirtmoji has just released a tranche of penis and vagina emojis to fill the gap currently plugged unsatisfactorally by the eggplant. They are not, in any universe, an improvement. EMOJIS, THE EXPRESSIVE cartoon critters that come bundled with every smartphone, are, I guess, the way of the future. But then so is climate change and meat grown in a petri dish – it doesn’t mean I have to like it. To acknowledge is not to condone, as illustrated by The Oxford English Dictionary making the “face with tears of joy” emoji their “word” of the year at the end of 2015. I can’t decide what the mood around the OED water cooler was that month, but I’m plumping for either sarcasm or despair. Don’t get me wrong; I dabble. I’m an entry-level emoji user. You have to be. When you’re as deadpan as I am in the email and texting department, you learn the value of “smiley face” pretty quickly. It’s secret squirrel code for, “No, I didn’t mean that literally, please don’t sue me”. At their best, emojis and emoticons are a fun shorthand. A smiley face wearing sunglasses means “Yeah, I’m cool”. A non-smiley face bandaged around the head means – when sent by my personal trainer – “I’ve hurt myself doing mixed martial arts and have to cancel your session.” An eggplant, regardless of context, indicates that you have a heaving erection (so watch out if you’re a vegan telling your mum what’s for dinner). It makes sense that emojis are on the rise. On the one hand, who doesn’t like dancing kittens holding hearts?* Also, the bulk of our communication is done electronically, and it’s super easy to make a wrong move tone-wise when you’re rattling something off. Emojis, technically, theoretically, make what you mean clear. On the other other hand, until fairly recently we managed to do that via the medium of words. You know, picking the right ones for the job and putting them in the correct order... It’s hard to talk about this without sounding like an old geezer sitting on his porch and yelling at the kids to “get off my lawn”. But I can’t help but feel that a world where humans are diminished to sending a cartoon purple fruit of the nightshade family** to indicate desire, is a world with no room for poetry, nuance or patience. Emojis are blunt instruments, and, I’d argue, reduce us all to toddlers. Adults don’t “emoji”. Hillary Clinton did not put sad faces on the bottom of her diplomatic messages to Putin. Donald Trump probably would. Hell, Donald Trump pretty much is an emoji. » For virtually more FSN, visit fionascottnorman.com.au or follow her on Twitter @FScottNorman.