Dehumanizing Communication


So Facebook recently introduced a new feature where users can pick from a variety of emojis to express a response to a post. 

Prior to that, users only had two options: write a comment, or “like” the post (which looked like a cartoon “thumbs up.”)  

The idea of the new feature, presumably, is to give users a wider palette of options for reacting to things on Facebook. So there’s now a “haha” face to express laughter, a “crying” face to express sadness, a “mad” face to express anger, and a few others. 

My friends were mixed in their reactions to this news. A couple said it’s a good thing because it now allows users to express distaste for the subject of a post rather than simply “liking” it, and a few others lamented the way little cartoon faces are replacing proper English, even calling it a sign that there is a rising “idiocracy.” 

The Idiocracy is the idea, based on a movie of the same name, that overtime, an anti-intellectual culture will produce dumb, sheep-like citizens. I don’t think that’s likely though, especially given that research shows human IQ’s are actually rising over time, not dropping

But I find emojis potentially much more insidious than the possibility of “idiocracy.” Emojis, if taken to their extreme, aren’t making us dumber. They’re making us less human

If my Facebook friend shares a New York Times article that says, “Tsunami in Indonesia kills thousands,” what is the proper response? Sad face emoji? Crying face emoji? 

Words and pictures aren’t just about communication. They’re an expression of despair or moral outrage, beauty or suffering, hope or loss. What yellow-faced cartoon can capture that? 

Where is the emoji that expresses true compassion? It’s safe to say that there is none—and there never will be.