First Click: Old people can use emoji, too

May 20th, 2015


I’m a 48-year-old American-born white male living in Europe. According to what I read on this thing called the interweb, I should hate emoji.

A few weeks ago, Matt Haber of The New York Times asked “Should Grown Men Use Emoji?” Absolutely, just know when and where to use it.

As an old, I can be stubborn to accept change, especially when that change is perceived to be driven by lazy tweens with no respect for linguistics. At least that’s how David Webster sees it, who wrote a piece for The Guardian last year titled “Adults who use emoji should grow up” followed by the very serious sub-headline “No amount of winking smileys can make up for, say, a refusal to fight injustice, or face up to climate change.” I’m no Webster, but that argument strikes me as a logical fallacy — emoji can be used in the fight against injustices like Ferguson [:raised_hands::gun:] and to show support for the planet [:earth_africa::thumbsup:] regardless of age, but usage should fit the medium.

Friend and Verge alumna Joanna Stern made a valiant effort yesterday to write a piece explaining emoji with emoji. A daunting task to say the least. I couldn’t read it until I found the translation option, and even then I found all those ideograms horribly distracting. But the article illustrates an important point: the language we use to ask friends to lunch from an Apple Watch isn’t the best choice for an article in The Wall Street Journal.

Joanna’s right though, emoji help make up for the lack of gestures, facial expressions, and intonation we experience in face-to-face communication. Emoji are also ideal for quickly communicating complex ideas from compact devices like smartwatches or phones.

Look, you don’t speak Italian when vacationing in Hawaii and you don’t use Comic Sans to announce the death of a family member. We communicate using the language that best fits the occasion. If my teenage son messages me with emoji then of course I’ll respond in kind. If an emoji best expresses my reaction to a photo on Instagram then that’s what I’ll use.

A picture says a thousand words, as they say — words I don’t want to type on tiny keyboards I can barely read.

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