I recently finished ‘1984’ by George Orwell, and it really got me thinking. This is just one of the thought journeys ‘1984’ took me on…
In 1949, George Orwell envisaged an apocalyptic, dystopian society arising by 1984, characterised by secrecy, the phenomenon of ‘doublethink’ and the implementation of an entirely abbreviated form of English, ‘Newspeak.’ 34 years since the real 1984, and our society perceives Orwell’s work as “excessive,” pessimistic foreshadowing, a predicted societal collapse that never really came to fruition. But what if his predictions were just a little premature?
Emojis are inarguably the most recent progression in language and communication. Granted, the ‘tears of joy’ emoji has not yet made it into the Oxford English Dictionary, but so-called ‘Emoji Dictionaries’ have been hitting the shelves not just nationally, but on a global scale. Whilst these are often satirical and not to be taken too seriously, one thing is increasingly clear: emoji transcends language barriers. The same emojis I am iMessaging my friends are seen across the globe, the same ‘language’ of sorts being globally understood and adopted. There is no doubt that I – painfully monolingual – would struggle to ask a French woman where to find the nearest coffee shop, but a few taps on my phone’s emoji keyboard, and she knows exactly what I mean. Surely this is a good thing. Surely emoji can do no wrong. Or can it?
It’s inevitable that opposition will arise to this new lingua franca. As Donald Mackinnon outlined, language innovations will always have a positive or negative reception: incorrect or correct? Socially acceptable or unacceptable? Useful or useless?
So which category does emoji fall into: useful or useless?
Clearly, emojis have infiltrated our society and other societies across the globe. But what about the people without access to emoji? Without access to a mobile phone? Are they to be left behind by this new language phenomenon that is sweeping across all 6 continents? Or are they merely missing out on another ephemeral trend humanity are renowned for?
Obviously, emoji has its faults. Whilst it is increasingly accessible – with its recent update of emojis of every race – it is equally inaccessible. Emoji is restricted to mobile phones, namely Apple’s ‘iPhone,’ though Samsung have inevitably had a crack at its own version of this trend. What will we do when we’re so used to emoji, but have to write an essay by hand? What will we do when we come across someone who doesn’t actually know what a monkey with its hands over its eyes means? Are we entering into a newly divided society?
Orwell divided his dystopic ‘1984’ society into 3: the ‘inner party,’ the ‘outer party,’ and the ‘proles.’ In the context of emoji, this could be iPhone users, Android users, and those without smartphones – like the ‘proles,’ blissfully unaware of the chaos transpiring above them. If we consider Kachru’s circles model, this is not too outrageous an assumption: he asserted that for the English language, there are 3 types of speaker – inner circle (native) speakers, outer circle (second language) speakers, and the expanding circle speakers, who use English as a lingua franca. In my opinion, this can be applied to emoji. The forms of emoji will proceed in waves across social contexts from an epicentre, like all language innovations; whilst the ‘inner party’ make use of an HD grinning emoji, the ‘outer party’ will have to make do with a lower quality form, and the ‘proles,’ a lowly ‘XD.’
Surely we can’t leave these people in such dire, inhumane conditions? Unfortunately, this is what emoji is leading to: segregation, alienation, and disillusionment.
Or am I taking this all a little too seriously?
Yes. Yes, I am.
For starters, emoji is only available on smartphones and tablets – not even laptops! It will also be a very sad day when emoji is used on paper. (I mean, can you imagine having to sketch an emoji within your writing? I can barely draw a love heart, let alone a laughing cat!) And, since writing on paper has not yet left the modern world (although we should check back in a few years…), emoji will not be 2018’s ‘Newspeak.’
2019, though? 2020?
No, let’s not get into it.