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Friday
Nov182016

Reviewing the Subtext, Episode 2

I hate emojis.

Always have. Likely always will.

Most people who learn of this blistering hatred take it as one further data point on the growing spreadsheet entitled Dial It Down, Grandpa: Belknap As Cantankerous Bystander. And true, I have been an irascible old man since I was a pre-teen. But this is mostly because the world and its inhabitants are exasperating and stupid. And selfish. And rude. And whiny. And mostly quite awful.

But even taking into account my Ear-Hair-and-Back-Pain worldview, I think I have a legitimate beef – one that has to do with imprecision. Language is at best an imperfect tool, one that demands of its user careful thought and lots of trial-and-error in order to convey some approximation of the ideas that incite us to speak. Language is time-intensive to use, and resource-intensive to process. Language is iterative – it demands of us that we shape and winnow until we arrive at the version that is least wrong, or that is most proximal to correct in its encapsulation of our ideas and impulses. In sum, language is effortful – it makes demands of us.

Not so emojis. The Artist Formerly Known as Emoticons requires only that the visual cortex of our brains functions at some minimal level.

Koalas as most of us know, eat exclusively eucalyptus leaves. As a food source, there are extraordinarily low in nutrients, and extremely difficult to digest. Baby koalas lack the capacity to ferment the chewed-up leaf-mush in their guts, so were they to eat the only food with which they have painted themselves into an evolutionary corner, they would be poisoned and die. So they eat pap from its mother. Pap, for those who don’t know, is essentially a phlegm-wad of partially digested eucalyptus leaves that the baby gets from its mom’s ass.

That’s what emojis are. They are the content equivalent of a runny ass-nugget that you are attempting to feed to me. For which I am not hungry. And for which my digestive system is too advanced to need. Yet still you keep leaving them for me. They are gross and extraneous. Please stop.

The use of emojis represents the abdication of the ongoing struggle for meaning inherent in the use of words – in using emojis, you are in effect lying down like a lotus-eater, blowing a smoke ring that begins losing its shape immediately.

Which I understand. I’m as lazy as anybody. I am lured by the siren song of just becoming a pool of putty-colored pudding and heeding the call of inactivity for all time, just powering down Funyuns and staring unblinking at screens. And I further understand that not everybody is equipped for or suited to grappling with words – not many among us gravitate toward this imperfect tool for problem solving. I further understand that we are all of us busy and besieged and that emojis frequently function as a kind of Hand Print on the Cave Wall meant to indicate something like “yes, I saw that you posted this milestone/event/thing, and I offer this brief acknowledgement.”

And lastly, I recognize that much of what we encounter on social media is quite tiny in scale, and does not warrant any kind of elaborate response. For this, I have a strategy: say nothing. If an idea or observation is tiny, what – aside from imagined social pressure or a misplaced sense of decency – is compelling you to provide any response?

Think back if you can to that moment where Twitter turned a little crappier. I’m not talking about trolling, or any of the shitty USES of Twitter, I mean Twitter itself. I believe that moment was when they abandoned the Star (“Favorite”) for the Heart (“Like”) – this I think represented a further slackening of the platform. Stars have edges, and points; like language, when it is used well. Hearts are bulbous and swollen; like language, when it is abused. “Favorite” can connote an attachment that is conceptual and even intellectual; “Like” is soppy and emotional. Also, the iconography is wrong – the Heart is universally recognized as a symbol for “Love,” so there is a mismatch in intensity – “Like” is mild, shading toward noncommittal; “Love” is urgent and consuming, shading toward the enduring.

Likewise, when Facebook, that cesspit of misused language, expanded its palette of emojis from the single “Like” Thumb Up to include the “Love” Heart (at which they best Twitter, at least, in this Derby of Simpleton Communications), the “Haha,” whom if I could I would punch in the throat, the “Wow,” who is clearly dumb as a bag of socks, “Sad,” who is a gutless little punk, and “Angry,” who is at most mildly irritated, they escalated the abdication of Attempting Precision in Communications by creating the impression that they have refined and increased the capacity of the lazy to express themselves. Which is like saying that the calf that is permitted to select the veal-fattening pen in which it will spend its short life knows freedom.

Back in the single icon “Like” days of Facebook, it was admittedly an imperfect system – much was demanded of that white man’s hand and the cuff from which it extends. “Like” gets thorny, after all, when you’re offering up a response to a friend’s complex post – if somebody throws up “Fantastic to see that Jeff Sessions, with his abundant qualifications, has been nominated for Attorney General – the Republic remains strong” – a statement that can ONLY be sensible if the person posting it does so with withering sarcasm – then you might look like a halfwit for giving it a “Like,” running the risk in so doing of seeming to endorse and agree with an idea that by any rational measure is fully insane and completely indefensible. In this case, “Like” means something more like “I Acknowledge Your Withering Sarcasm, And Endorse Your Intent Without, Obviously, Lending Any Credence to Folly and Madness of the Content of Your Post.”

In the world of the single emoji, there were times when we were required to refine and expand upon our “Like” to more closely approximate what we meant in using it. Now, with no-nose little stand-ins for our feelings on any matter. It may seem like I overstate things when I express the belief that this incremental abdication on our part does not merely increase the proportion of ass-pap we let into our diet, but it renders us less and less willing – and as an eventual consequence less and less ABLE – to express with precision what it is that we believe, what it is we find objectionable, what it is we aspire to.

Another of the koala’s evolutionary quirks is that it has no adaptive response to the wear on its teeth that chewing for a lifetime on fibrous eucalyptus leaves causes. Some animals have multiple sets of molars that migrate forward to replace those that get ground down; some animals have chisel-teeth that never stop growing, so that as material gets abraded off, it is replenished. The koala has one set of teeth, a set that goes unreplaced and unrejuvenated – when the koala’s teeth wear out, it starves to death.

Don’t be like the koala. Don’t begin life eating poop wads. Don’t end life unable to feed yourself to drop out of a tree.

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