Emoji are making us lazy, replacing the tools of communication we spent so many millennia developing

'Will language courses at universities one day feature modules based on the study of which emoji to apply in which scenario?'

The rise of the emoji has been quite a remarkable one. A 2015 study by analytics firm Emogi has shown us pictures of chicken wings and cheerful excrement aren’t just for millennials: almost 76 per cent of 25 to 29-year-olds class themselves as “frequent” users, with around 21 per cent identifying as using emoji only “occasionally.” That leaves the meagre portion of 3.4 per cent of that particular group who are non-users.

These statistics probably don’t come as too much of a surprise, but consider this if you will: a line often repeated by frequent emoji users is they feel emoji can convey what they wish to say more accurately than if words were to do the same job. To be exact, 84 per cent of frequent female emoji users held this opinion when asked during the Emogi survey, as did 75 per cent of their male counterparts. So, rather than emoji being used alongside words to pepper our paragraphs or punctuate our persuasion, they are now actually being used instead of words, replacing the tools of communication we spent so many millennia developing.

Not content with being able to select from the near-endless list of adverbs and adjectives we have at our disposal - made simpler with the introduction of online thesauruses - it’s now the done thing to wax lyrical about a film, a meal, or a football match using the weird and wonderful world of the emoji gallery, which glares at you alongside your phone’s keyboard like some sort of lurid hieroglyph version of Hamleys toy store.

It is, of course, all about speed. The dawn of the world wide web gave rise to the birth of the email, the quickest communication method up to that point. In keeping with the theme of time-saving, the hip thing to do was to miss out every single vowel of every single word, and abbreviate at every opportunity - from the understandable ‘nb’ (not bad), to the slightly tenuous TTFN, which apparently meant ‘ta-ta for now’. Today, this practice is a lot less prevalent. Why? Because of the trusty emoji.

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Why shorten words and risk looking uneducated when you can write an entire novel with sarcastic smiles and sultry winks? After all, the ‘tears of joy’ emoji was the proud winner of the Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year accolade in 2015, even though it technically shouldn’t qualify as an entrant.

Ever since competing broadband speeds became a thing, this penchant for all things fast seems to have developed into some sort of global obsession with efficiency. Insightful YouTube videos are so last decade; ‘I can only spare six seconds, so you’ll have to make do with a Vine instead’. What we’ve gained in agility, we appear to have lost in attention span.

So, where does this leave us for the future? Will language courses at universities one day feature modules based on the study of which emoji to apply in which scenario? Will other corporations follow the lead of McDonald’s and Domino’s and break into emoji-only advertising? Will our next Wordsworth communicate entirely in double-entendre pictographs of aubergines? Well, as we’ve established, emoji are often used, not just alongside words, but actually in lieu of them. Whether it’s to help articulate a point in a debate, to cast a negative opinion on something, or to make that first Tinder message ever-so-slightly more flirtatious (read: phallic aubergine), emoji are there to say the apparently unsayable, and to make us lazy. Fast, yes, but lazy.

As Brooks Hatlen emerged after fifty years in prison in Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption, he said: “The world went and got itself in a big damn hurry.” Despite it being set in the 1950s, and also not actually happening in real life, the man had, and has, a point. If we want to keep enjoying masterpieces like Shawshank, let’s just hope the next Darabont prefers reading, rather than simply looking at the pictures.

Twitter: @richardmiah

Richard Miah is in his third-year studying real estate BSc (hons) at Nottingham Trent University. He hopes to go to drama school as a one-year postgrad

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