“Emoji’s are making us cavemen.” I overheard a recent conversation where someone was summarizing something they read on the release of the new Facebook emoticon reactions. I began to laugh to myself as I thought about the new emoticons. Before, we could only ‘like’ something on Facebook. I ‘like’ this photo or I ‘like’ that funny quote; but it got a little awkward when someone posted bad news. I wanted to respond in some way to a post such as a prayer request about losing a pet or close friend, but ‘liking’ it just didn’t seem right. To ‘like’ the comment felt like you were proclaiming “I never liked your grandma anyway.” Okay maybe it wasn’t exactly that, but I hated ‘liking’ bad news posts. A response seemed necessary, but ‘liking’ it wasn’t the right one. Often, I would leave a written comment, but then all day long I would be notified any time someone else commented on the post. A text or phone call would be a better reaction to bad news, but I wanted to respond in the same medium that I had received the news. I even asked out loud: “Why can we only ‘like’ things?” What does this singularity of reaction say about our society (okay that is probably a little too deep for a cartoon hand gesture…)?
Apparently I wasn’t the only one who wanted more out of their cartoon hand gesture, so they released other ‘reactions’ and named them ‘angry,’ ‘sad,’ ‘wow,’ ‘haha’ and ‘love.’ Some of them linguistically make sense, and some of them, as the conversation I overheard suggested, make us sound like cavemen. I ‘love’ this, but I ‘angry’ that; this doesn’t sound like a person that has a grasp on language. Now of course our brains do the hard work of relaying what we are really trying to express. “This makes me angry” or “This makes me sad,” but if you directly translate an emoticon, it becomes really awkward language. And it got me thinking and wondering: are we moving backwards? Not just in the way that we express our emotions, but in the way that we share them as well?
There was a movie made several years ago called Idiocracy. The opening narration set up the premise of the whole movie: at the beginning of the 21st century humanity was at a turning point in evolution. Because we have no natural predator (other than other humans) to ensure that only the smartest and most adept would multiply, people kept multiplying but intelligence was actually going down and not up. A man traveled from the past and discovered that he was now a genius because of this dumbed-down culture. As life became more, so had emotions. The movie had a great premise that it may not have pulled off perfectly, but it had great ideas behind it. One of my favorite lines from the movie took place in Costco. As someone entered the store, they were told “Welcome to Costco, I love you.” The value of emotions and the complexity of love became muted and made convenient. Everything was automated, even love. Now this is deeply exaggerated, but I wonder: are we making our emotions too redility available? With so few reactions, are we training our brains to make emotions cheap? No further than the click of a button, are we too quick to ‘love’ something? In this day and time when everything, including our next date, can be as quick as a click and a swipe away, are we dumbing down our emotional capability? There isn’t much risk to clicking ‘love,’ but there is a lot of risk in saying it, and certainly a great amount in living it out. So what do you think readers?