Emojis Leave Me Feeling (Insert Confused Face Here)

In an effort to give users a little more flexibility with how they respond to their friends’ missives, Facebook is testing a small set of emojis. The little smiling/laughing/crying/fuming faces will roll out only in Spain and Ireland at first, but could come to the rest of Facebook’s 1.2 billion users in the near future.

That makes me (happy face), I guess. It seems odd to give a Facebook thumbs up when someone announces their dog just died. But the world of emojis generally leaves me feeling a bit (confused face).

My son and I were texting a few days ago. He, being a sensitive, globally-aware college student, was telling me about a documentary he’d just watched on how our love of beef is hurting the environment. Since I am among those in society who loves me some beef, I wrote back, “Does that mean that, if I order a steak, you’ll rip the plate from my hands and dash it to the floor?” This was a joke, and I was pretty sure he’d take it as such. But I wasn’t quite sure. Who knows? Maybe he was at that very minute scrawling out protest signs.

So I did what most of us do these days. I ended the sentence with a colon and an end parenthesis, indicating a smiley face.

Now, back in the day when emoticons still had their new punctuation smell, any texting or word processing program would just leave it at that. I’m sure that somewhere in the computer’s digital synapses, some circuits were whispering to one another, “Hey, this guy really has no idea how to use an end-parenthesis, does he?” as they snickered in that insufferable way they do. But, as emoticons became ever-more commonplace, programmers scolded their software and took it upon themselves to replace the emoticon with a smiley face—just like it it does in this blog. Like this 🙂

And that was fine.

But I’m a bit of an emoticon snob, and I only use them when it seems like it’s absolutely necessary to avoid confusion. As such, I have not kept up with the global emoji race. So when I typed in this little doodad on my iPhone, I was surprised when all of a sudden I was whisked to, essentially, a teeming emoji mall. I was being asked to choose between 30 smiley faces. Not 30 faces: 30 smiley faces, sporting various degrees of grin or smirk or mirth. And I was forced to choose which smiley face worked best for my message.

Did I want one with rosy cheeks? A tongue sticking out? The one with tears leaking out of the emoji’s eyes seemed a little much. The toothy grin smiley emoji looked vaguely threatening. I eventually chose one that I thought looked like a more wry smirk than a laugh-out-loud face. But now that I look at it again, I realize it’s less wry smirk than a rather disturbing leer.


As I scrolled through the emoji choices I was given, I realized that this was just the tip of the yellow emoji iceberg. I could choose to smile at my son as a policeman. Or an alien. Or as a rather creepy gang of four emoji people. Or I could choose to use emojis that, to my retro eyes, don’t seem to communicate any particular emo-tion at all. Like, what does the crocodile emoji mean? Are you expressing fake sympathy, as in crocodile tears? And what’s up with the cooked shrimp emoji? I don’t think even living shrimp have emotions, much less cooked ones. Does the shrimp emoji have some deeper meaning that I’m not aware of? I was looking at the stars the other night, thinking about the Greek philosopher Zeno, and it made me feel so very (shrimp).

I asked my 21-year-old daughter about this, and to my relief she said that lots of emojis are simply for fun. She admits that she sometimes just slaps an octopus in her texts. Why? She likes octopi.

Still, I find this explosion of emojis strange. Originally, I’m assuming that emoticons came into vogue when the writer really just didn’t want to expend the time to type in another couple of words of explanation, or the process of writing “haha” was just too draining. But now, in our digital-age desire to make things quicker, we’ve also made things ever-so-much-more complicated. Which sounds like something we do, doesn’t it? And, of course, it doesn’t just stop with the emojis that came pre-loaded on my phone. I understand that you can get quintillions of custom emojis, too. If I so desired, I could download, say, a set of Batman emojis to use—which would be great if the “real” Batman had more emotional expressions than just glower.

But emojis seem like they’re here for the long haul. Sony pictures is even making a movie based on emojis, apparently. I don’t know how that’ll work, exactly, but I’m sure we’ll (laughing face), we’ll (crying face).

Who wrote this?

Paul Asay has been writing for Plugged In since 2007 and loves superheroes and finding God in unexpected places. In addition, Paul has also written several books, with his newest—Burning Bush 2.0—recently published by Abingdon Press. When Paul’s not reviewing movies, he hikes with his wife, Wendy, runs marathons with his grown kids, Colin and Emily, and beats back unruly houseplants. Follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

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