Emojis. Those cutesy little things that enable you to evolve a simple text of boring old words into a beautiful tapestry of modern-day hieroglyphics. But are they really helping you better express yourself? Or are they another step towards a brainless Orwellian future?
My, my. That took a dark turn.
But stick with me here.
Last year I picked up George Orwell’s “1984” for the first time since my high school English class. I found it appropriately interesting, able to understand some of the subtlety that is lost on a teenager that’s more focused on the girl sitting in front of him. Some stuff matched up quite scarily to modern life. Other stuff, not so much. Honestly, I find Huxley’s “Brave New World” to be much closer to our current, pleasure-and-entertainment obsessed culture.
But there was one section of 1984 that really struck me, and I’d been thinking about it for a few days afterward, when what comes on the radio as I’m driving in my truck, but the radio DJ blabbering about how excited he is for the new batch of emojis to be released.
And then I thought, “Holy shit, it’s happening.”
The passage in 1984 I’m referring to is where the main character, Winston, is having an awkward lunch with a guy named Syme. They are talking about Syme’s work in developing the Eleventh Edition of the “Newspeak” dictionary. Syme, a true believer in Big Brother, offers the following thoughts:
“You think, I dare say, that our chief job is inventing new words. But not a bit of it! We’re destroying words–scores of them, hundreds of them, every day. We’re cutting the language down to the bone…. It isn’t only the synonyms; there are also the antonyms. After all, what justification is there for a word which is simply the opposite of some other word? A word contains its opposite in itself. Take ‘good’, for instance. If you have a word like ‘good’, what need is there for a word like ‘bad’? ‘Ungood’ will do just as well…”
Hmm. Intriguing. But not exactly scary, right?
Right. Until George Orwell, through the proxy of Syme’s dialogue, articulates to the reader why having a rich and expressive language is important:
“Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.”
Have you ever thought in terms of a meme?
Have you ever verbally hashtagged something?
Have you ever decided that a bitmoji is the best you can do to convey your true feelings?
Of course, texts and other short-form writings are inherently restrictive of word count. That’s why we need emojis.
But have you noticed them creep into other areas? Into long-form posts? Into emails? Into letters? Into your own thoughts?
I leave you with a final quote from Syme: “Every year fewer and fewer words, and the range of consciousness always a little smaller.”
What do you think? Am I being an alarmist? Or are you going to start thinking twice before taking Apple’s emoji recommendation to replace your words?