Emojis are inadequate replacement for words

My phone was battered and beaten when I entered the Apple Store two weeks ago. Luckily my phone was insured (thanks, Mom) and the genius at the Genius Bar simply issued me a replacement.

And like that, I had a new phone. Of course, it wasn’t quite that simple. I hadn’t backed up my phone for quite some time, so when I finally updated my information, there were some things that I forgot about and, of that information, some things that I missed … severely.

For everything I missed, however, the one I longed for the most were my emojis. Where did they even come from in the first place? My friend, I think, downloaded them when I was a freshman. But from where? The App Store? The Internet?

Suffice it to say, I’ve been emoji-free since Oct. 16. At first, I hated it. But now, I’m starting to love it. Emojis, for as long as I had my first phone (so, less than two years), served me well. And I’m not the only one.

A friend recently told me that her mom went online to find a spreadsheet of all the emojis and their literal definitions. She keeps it on her Notes app and references it whenever she gets stuck.

And stuck is exactly how I felt on Oct. 18, two days after my successful visit to the Apple Store. How on Earth would I convey emotion to my friends over text? Perhaps worse, how would I ever display agreement without the handy thumbs up emoji? Would I really have to start typing “yeah” (or more likely, “ya”)?

Sarcasm aside, it actually was a bit of a problem.

I wouldn’t call myself a master of the emoji, but I definitely was a frequent — if not addicted — user. Sometimes I would even have full conversations in emoji, as many often do. Most of the time, there was nothing explicitly wrong with doing this. And often, emojis allow for creativity in storytelling (see Aaron Paul’s Twitter during his Jesse Pinkman days).

But, in some cases, emojis became a crutch for me to lean on. I used them to avoid serious conversations or dismiss a weighty situation without fully giving it the consideration it deserved.

My generation is often criticized for texting instead of talking. But emojiying instead of texting seems to be lowering the bar even further. Like texting, emojis leave little in terms of organic reaction from the other side of the communication. And sometimes they only end up muddling a conversation that a simple phone call might have cleared up in the first place.

Cue Girls.

In the first episode of the most recent season, Ray, a brash 33-year-old, confronts Shoshanna, a quirky and endearing 21-year-old, about an emoji-laden text: “A panda next to a gun next to a wrapped gift? It makes no sense.”

Indeed. Not that I necessarily want to be connected with Ray at that point in the storyline, but I’m going to have to agree.

Without having emojis on my phone, I’ve become more creative in my texting. The absence of emojis has required me to, once again, devote more time to something seriously lacking from communication today: deliberation and consideration.

Instead of simply selecting my emotion from a long list of images (for the record, I usually go with the monkey covering its mouth), I’m forced to think about how I feel and express it in words. It’s forced me to attempt cleverness or wit, something often more difficult to do with emojis, at least with the same precision. It’s brought my character back to my communication, rather than relying on the character of a graphically rendered image of a woman with her hand in the air.

Sure, it’s not the same as talking on the phone, but it seems a little bit better than sending an image to speak for itself — and be left up for interpretation.

There are cases when emojis make sense. They are often fun to use to tell stories, show sarcasm or lighten a mood. And once in a while, it’s just fun use them to send that cryptic message. But, at least for now, I’m happy to be using my words again.



Daniel Rothberg is a junior majoring in political science. His column “21st Century Fears” runs Thursdays.

Follow Daniel on Twitter @danielrothberg