What would Socrates say? Media Buff gives the lowdown on the Emoji

Sputnik news agency and radio 05:00 GMT 28.02.2021


We're all familiar with the humble emoji, be it the simple smiley face, or the bawdy aubergine, and now the emoji lexicon is expanding. Apple is preparing to add 217 new emojis to its virtual repertoire, hoping to boost the inclusivity of the medium.


Sputnik asked Mark Brill, senior lecturer at the School of Games, Film and Animation at Birmingham City University, UK, to enlighten us on the wider significance of the emoji.


Sputnik: Years ago, "text slang" was demonised as the death of language. It seems as though autocorrect and smartphones have mostly cancelled out that threat - but could emojis be the new global language villain?

Mark Brill: Well, I think it's all about perception. And I think we've always struggled with it. Even two and a half thousand years ago, Socrates complained about young people and how they didn't have any respect for their elders. And I think that's what's coming through with this issue around emojis, and before that, texting. What's actually been shown is that emojis are often a clever use of language. The first thing to remember, when you're texting, or when you're using a message, it's not meant to be a form of written language. Essentially, it's a conversation that is communicated through text. So, it's a much more informal context. And within that, the way in which we use emojis, and we attach meaning to them, is actually a demonstration of quite a sophisticated use of language.


Sputnik: Could we see emojis move from "social" to "official"? Could we see emojis used in books, letters, news articles, or even legal documents?

Mark Brill: Possibly, yes. I think one of the key points here is that it is to bring important elements to any written conversation, any written speech - which is that of emotion. Studies have compared the emoji to using gestures in language. So, it's all about nonverbal communication, and it can add something to that. In 2015, the "laughing/crying" face was Word of the Year for the Oxford English Dictionary.

So, clearly it is becoming more acceptable. And I think, as with anything, it is about using language and using the communication tools appropriately. I'm not sure if we're going to see an emoji within a legal document, but we may well see it coming into, for example, a business context and some of the more formal forms of communication, because it does actually add something extra in terms of that emotional aspect.


Sputnik: What is future of the emoji? We've seen the incorporation of multinational emojis, skin tones, same sex family units - helping people to find an emoji they feel represents them - could we see it going further, perhaps with photographic representations of the user condensed into an emoji?

Mark Brill: I think that's a really interesting possibility. I think the first thing to remember about emojis is that it is a global communication language. It was designed for the whole world to use. And therefore, they have to represent all the world in its complete diversity. I guess what you are talking about is personalisation, and I think we already personalise emojis to represent ourselves. A few years ago, there was a very popular Bitmoji, which was exactly that - it was a version of ourselves, that we were able to use and add to messages in much the same way that we're using emojis. So, it's not completely impossible. And I'm really interested to see where it goes.


Sputnik: These emojis were created and designed by artists. Recently, a poll published by The Sunday Times listed "artist" as the most "non-essential" job - would you agree with that statement?

Mark Brill: No, quite the opposite actually. Particularly now, art, and creativity in its broadest sense of the word, is absolutely fundamental to allow us to move forward as a society. Although art has been seen as frivolous, that ability to think creatively is what makes us human and a lot of what gives us purpose. And actually, if you look at the great advances, even the scientific ones, there's a high degree of creativity going in there. And that ability that artists have to make interesting and new connections, is what we need right now.


Sputnik: Do you agree with the assertion that emojis increase the generational gap between Millennials and Generation Z?

Mark Brill: No, I don't believe that. I think it's similar to what I said earlier, about Socrates - these kinds of "intergenerational spats" have always existed and will continue to exist. And it plays out in the media of the day. So right now, that means it's all around TikTok, and it's around emojis. And it's important to some extent that younger generations do tend to rebel against the older generations. Now, some years ago, that was about music. It was about Rock and Roll being a voice of rebellion. And now I think it has shifted much more to social media. And emojis just happen to be a very small battleground in this process, of the younger generations rejecting what's gone before.