Why People Who Read Should Care About Emojis

Jonathan Kalb in The Brooklyn Rail:

Emojis are an infantilization of language in the name of amusement. A New Yorkmagazine cover story last year compared them admiringly to ancient hieroglyphs without mentioning that civilization bounded forward after advancing from pictographs to symbolic language. Emojis are also a flagrant and increasingly common means of pandering to the young. What else are the White House’s emoji-peppered online notices to millennials about the Affordable Care Act, or The Guardian’s emoji translation of Obama’s 2015 State of the Union address?

The nadir of emoji pointlessness, in my view, is Fred Benenson’s Emoji Dick, a 736-page, crowd-sourced emoji translation of Melville’s Moby-Dick that was accepted into the Library of Congress in 2013. It beggars belief that anyone but Benenson has ever read this book cover to cover.

Small reason was there to doubt, then, that ever since that almost fatal encounter, Ahab had cherished a wild vindictiveness against the whale, all the more fell for that in his frantic morbidness he at last came to identify with him, not only all his bodily woes, but all his intellectual and spiritual exasperations.

The White Whale swam before him as the monomaniac incarnation of all those malicious agencies which some deep men feel eating in them, till they are left living on with half a heart and half a lung.

I am obviously an emoji skeptic, yet I found myself drawn to investigate them for deeply personal reasons. I have lived for more than a decade with facial palsy that distorts my smile and causes a lot of social misunderstanding. I employ a raft of improvised strategies to clarify the emotional intentions behind my quirky facial expressions, and emojis, I realized, were doing something similar for normal people. These tiny cartoonish faces and glyphs were deployed as digital masks. Millions were grasping at them to elucidate their feelings because their addiction to faceless communication modes had put them at a comparable disadvantage to mine.

More here.