By Arré Bench Feb. 15, 2019
Like hieroglyphics and cave drawings, the popularity of the emoji is a testament to how much we love to speak in cute little pictures. But like every language, even emoji needs an update – let’s start with the Pride heart emoji.
very couple should be able to express their feelings, openly and freely. It’s time for love to get an inclusive expression too. Show your support, and sign Uber’s petition for the Pride Heart emoji.
Who among us hasn’t heard our parents give gyaan about the good old days — when they had to walk uphill to get to school, post handwritten letters in the mail, and shut up and listen to their elders? Of course, the moral of these stories is always that we ungrateful kids, with our school buses and email and cool, liberal parents, have it easier in life. It’s true — kids these days don’t know how good they have it.
Fellow millennials, do you remember the 2000s, when we had to use actual words to communicate with each other? In the era of T9 texting, it would take four dabs on a button – a button! – to make a simple letter “S” appear on your phone! Today’s teenagers, however, will never know these struggles, because they only have to find the perfect emoji.
Like hieroglyphics and cave drawings, the popularity of the emoji is a testament to how much we love to speak in cute little pictures. We rely on non-linguistic cues in face-to-face interactions, and it’s definitely easier to glean the tone and meaning of a sad face or a pile of poop, than a text that merely says “k”.
But, ease of communication aside, the reason emojis have been so successful in colonising our conversation is because they’re a reflection of society, codified into accessible images. Not only is the humble emoji a massively complex and sophisticated piece of non-verbal language — it also catalogues exactly what we consider essential to communication. That’s why our emoji keyboard features six different cat moods, four kinds of monkeys, and a dozen coloured hearts.
And yet, we don’t have an emoji that represents love in all its forms. On September 6, 2018, the Indian Supreme Court finally struck down the draconian British-era law, Section 377, that criminalised homosexuality. The decade-long fight to repeal 377 has seen brave LGBTIAQ+ activists challenging society’s regressive view of them, and their hard-won legal victory last year was undeniably heartwarming. But at the same time, it’s clear that legislation is only a part of the larger fight for acceptance. The fight for acceptance will unfold in the streets – and also our keyboards, now an indispensable part of the world we occupy.
Could communication get any richer? Could love, in all its forms, find a better expression?
The next step along the path to equality is respecting the idea that love is present all around us in all forms, even those that aren’t visible. And the road to equality begins with acknowledgement. For many kinds of love, forced to hide and remain forbidden because some archaic rules once dictated so, recognition is the key to acceptance. That recognition could be as simple as seeing a rainbow-coloured Pride heart emoji in the bouquet of hearts to choose from, when sending a text. Having a Pride heart, right alongside all the other hearts in blue and green and sparkly pink, is validation.
Unicode Consortium, the gatekeepers and regulators of the emoji world, need to be congratulated not just for upcycling piles of poop and adding a bacon emoji to the bank of 1,200 standard emojis. They’ve made racially diverse emojis standard across platforms, added the flag of practically every country, and broadened the definition of love and relationships to include same-sex couples and families. And that has gone a long way in normalising things. Currently, in the spirit of true inclusion, Uber India is petitioning the Consortium to add a heart emoji in the colours of the LGBTIAQ+ Pride flag and celebrate the reversal of Section 377. It’s an example of how emojis can reflect not only the society we live in, but the one we want to be.
While certain dinosaurs insist that the rise of emojis is the death knell of the written word, it’s much ado about nothing. Emojis can convey feeling — love, anger, excitement, confusion, even Pride — all at the click of an icon. They can define what’s important, both in society and in how we talk to each other. Could communication get any richer? Could love, in all its forms, find a better expression?
I think not.