The Politics Of Digital Discourse: It's Getting Emoji-onal

06/06/2016 16:51

The latest Unicode 9 update will include 72 new emojis, it was announced last week. Catering to athletes, foodies, zookeepers and expressive cats alike, the update will introduce a plethora of icons into our digital vernacular.

I enjoy emojis just as much as the next smartphone-obsessed millennial; while I'm delighted that I will soon be able to illustrate my english breakfast in full (bacon, sausages and eggs are just some of the new inclusions), I can't help but feel slightly concerned by the rate at which emojis seem to be monopolising the way we communicate.

Is our ever-expanding digital vocabulary superseding the need to converse through words? First, there was LOL, ATM, WTF, LMFAO. Then Twitter came along and introduced the hashtag into our lives (#tbt). There was the occasional :) or :P. Now, entire conversations can be had in pure emoji dialect. Huzzah.

The thing is, more emojis we have access to, the more we will be inclined to use them and consequently, the less need we will feel the need to communicate in full sentences. It won't be long before the act of typing words feels completely archaic. It's quicker and more often, funnier to retell stories and experiences graphically rather than linguistically. For example, dates = wineglasses and love hearts, hangovers = green faces and wilting roses, food comas = hamburgers and pregnant women, one night stands = aubergines (at least we'll always have phallicism).

Ironically, by constantly expanding our emoji lexicon, Unicode are increasingly making themselves susceptible to accusations of exclusivity. People are consistently (quite rightly) complaining about about the lack of diversity reflected in the emoji world. If there's a princess, there should be a prince, if there's a doctor, there should be a nurse, if there's a fish tank, there should be a Nemo. And that's just the beginning. When you start considering representations of gender and race, emojis offerings seem incredibly limited and grossly stereotypical.

Why are there only five shade of skin tone? Why is there no male dancer? Why is there no female doctor? The prejudices that one could identify are endless.

There has been particular furore against the under representation of women; earlier this year, first lady Michelle Obama tweeted 'would love to see a girl studying emoji'.

Google responded to this last month by proposing an entirely new set of female-only emojis in different professional sectors to promote equality.

The truth is that emojis should never have been gendered in the first place. Limiting representations of human beings to certain genders, races and careers was only ever going to open up a can of worms. Bravo, emoji-makers.

One could commend emojis for their reflection of diversity within the family section which originally this consisted of a man, a woman and two children. Now it's like an episode of Modern Family with 12 combinations to choose from.

I can't help but wonder how we got here; how has the responsibility to reflect the infinite diversity of our society fallen on EMOJIS?! Is this really how we feel we need to define ourselves now?

What's next? Demands to represent religions beliefs and dietary requirements? Temples and gluten-free croissants?

Before we know it, emojis will completely dominate our digital conversations and experiences. Feeling nervous about your afternoon spinning class? Grumpy about the smelly man on the tube? Concerned by the ambiguous blister on your little toe? Don't worry, there's an emoji for that.