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Body Language

Does the Popularity of Emoji Mean We Are Getting Dumber?

The rise and rise of Emoji doesn't mean we are getting less smart.

Does the rise and rise of emoji mean we are getting less smart? No, it doesn’t. The function of emoji is to fulfill some of the non-verbal communication that we obtain in face-to-face interactions.

Much of our interpersonal communications rely on facial expression and intonation (where pitch and contour can change the meaning of what you’re saying) and so on – these are known as para-linguistic cues, or ‘paralanguage’.

Paralanguage is a key way in how we communicate how we feel about what we’re saying. If you think about Marvin the Paranoid Android from The Hitchhikers’ Guide To The Galaxy saying “I will enjoy it” with a monotone voice, then you’d know that’s ironic.

Another important element in interactions is kinesics, which has to do with body language, gesture and facial expression. Actually, between 65 and 70% of social meaning, on some estimates, derives not from language and but from other non-verbal communication cues.

The point with emoji is that it’s doing for digital text and digital-speak what paralanguage and kinesics do for spoken language. So emoji does not dumb down anything – in fact, it’s making us better communicators, and helps us avoid the ‘angry jerk’ phenomenon in text speak.

To explain what I mean by the ‘angry jerk – a phrase I use in my new book The Emoji Code – imagine receiving an email from a colleague, partner, family member or friend, who you know to be calm and sane; but in their emails to people, this person sounds angry. People often do seem to come across as plain hopping mad.

The problem with email is that it sucks out the empathy of communication, or the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. You have no way of knowing, when you read an email, if the sender is sipping a martini, in chilled-out-fashion out by the pool in the sunshine, or ranting in a fit of pique in midnight rage.

 Michael O'Mara Books; used with permission
Source: Copyright: Michael O'Mara Books; used with permission

So emoji puts the empathy back into the text. Basically that’s the function of emoji – to make us better communicators, by filling in something that was missing from digital communication, something that is already there in face to face interaction, provided by our nonverbal cues. And today, Emoji is the world's universal form of communication, fit for the Digital Age.

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