There was once a time in the mid 90s when the Internet became a viable option for everyday people, not something that was stuck in a dusty university lab.

It was new, unpredictable, and a little random.

A gaming site would pop up out of nowhere, and everyone would flock to it because it was literally the only gaming site around. When a new service for communicating emerged--say, the first BBS (Bulletin Board System)--it was a godsend.

Suddenly, there was a new way to send a message to another person, essentially a crude form of a voicemail but written in text, and meant for discussing any topic. This was before Usenet groups become widely known, and long before group chats. In fact, it was decades before Slack, or texting, or any of the communication channels we use today.

Trolling became a common occurrence. On almost every BBS, discussions could devolve quickly. Eventually, people started using text emojis--winks and smiles, shrugs and frowns--to imply they were kidding or not that serious. Because text communication doesn't let you express emotion, people started using other means of lightening the mood.  

I started in my first "real" job right around the time when everyone started using emojis, but I resisted the urge. I'm not sure why--it felt odd at the time. I wanted my words to convey my meaning, and I felt an emoji seemed a little too much like a fad. For years, I avoided the wink or the shrug, watching as these emoticons evolved over a few years, then a decade, then two decades. Believe it or not, in all of that time, I've never used one.

Not even once. Nada.

I know it's elitist. I know it's dumb.

Now, it's my claim to fame.

I work with a few students doing mentoring in a marketing role, and they know all about how I've abstained. It is a running joke. I've been known to type out the phrase "sad face" or "frown" instead of using an emoji. If you work in public relations and you've received emails from me over the years, you're probably not that shocked. You've never seen me use one in an email, and you've never seen one on my social feeds.

Now it's more of a challenge than anything. I'm going for the record. (I know there are probably a few other blood brothers and sisters out there. I get you.)

I'm not against emojis. I felt they were a bit shallow at first, now I know they are part of the lexicon we use. The author Sherry Turkle has written about using emojis with her kids as a way to build relationships. I'm in the camp that says it's because of this oddity--never having used one--that has made me a little endearing to my kids.

Or maybe they are sending smirk emjois behind my back.

They know it fits my personality. I'm an introvert, so fanfare is not my thing. Adding some flair to my communication feels like a compromise to my personal integrity. I don't think Ron Swanson would use them, either. (If you don't know who he is, I feel sorry for you.)

Emojis are playful. They serve a distinct purpose, communicating in one icon what would normally take a few words. You can relay fairly complex emotions--an icon that shows a nurse laughing or a baby crying convey radically different messages.

Not every emoji is cartoonish, either. Some are more serious, some are meant to form stronger bonds with people. Some are quite helpful, I'm sure.

Am I missing out? Maybe.

I might not be able to communicate at a certain level, and I might have to type more and expound on my thoughts to make sure people know I'm kidding. Yet, I don't plan to relinquish this mantle anytime soon. It's a lonely group. But I'm OK with that.

Wink-wink.

Published on: Jul 19, 2018