This is all Party Poppers and Card Games, of course — but there’s also an intriguing subtext here. Maybe emoji aren’t a window onto the soul, per se, but they are a sort of universal, pictographic language. And in that respect, they communicate quite a lot — about the individual sender, larger demographic groups, and our emoji-obsessed culture as a whole. Do men use some emoji more than women? Do emoji meanings change according to country or individual or level of intoxication?
I posed some of these questions to Brill by e-mail. The resulting conversation has been lightly edited for style, space and flow.
So first off, obvious Q, can you tell me a little bit about yourself: What you do, where you’re located, how old you are — that kind of stuff?
Easy ones! I’m 30, I live in Brooklyn, and I’m a copywriter at an advertising agency called Droga5. I grew up in New Jersey, but I usually wait a while to tell people that because it tends to get a reaction that resembles the “Unamused Face” emoji.
How do you use emoji, personally? What about them interests you?
Depends on who I’m talking to, how excited I am, and how much I’ve been drinking. I’ve had text conversations with my sister that have been exclusively in emoji. It’s a fun creative challenge to try and express a lucid thought in a language that consists of Syringes, Japanese Dolls and Piles of Poop.
So if you had to choose an emoji to represent (a) yourself and (b) your blog … what would they be?
Can I choose two: The one I’d like to represent me/the blog and the one that represents them in reality? For me, I’d like to be the “Party Popper,” because everyone’s always excited to see the Party Popper. But in reality I’m probably the “Grimacing Face” because I’m a pretty high-strung guy and the 3,200 unread e-mails on my iPhone haven’t helped.
In terms of the blog, I’d like to have it represented by the “Face with Tears of Joy,” because all I really want to do is make people laugh. But it’s probably more accurately represented by the “Oncoming Police Car” because there’s no way I’m gonna get away with practicing unlicensed Internet medicine much longer.
Your Tumblr is obviously pretty tongue-in-cheek, but when you think about it, you can actually tell a lot about how someone communicates, based on which emoji they use. Are there any emoji sets you looked at and thought, “ah man, I know exactly what this person is about.”? (I like #57, Gilda, who’s all cake and hearts and tropical flowers. I feel like I know Gilda already.)
I never quite look at someone’s emoji set and say, “I know what this person is about.” It’s more an exercise of slowly fitting pieces together and writing fan fiction about people I’ve never met. Except my stories always have the same ending: You’re a trainwreck.
Have you noticed any trends (…beside the trainwreck thing)? Are there any emoji that show up more/less than you might’ve expected?
You’re right. This is all obviously one big joke and I’ve got zero psychological qualifications (probably even less than the average person, being a writer). But I do think there’s some validity to our recently used emoji being a window into the current state of our lives. They’re a quick and easy way to express our emotions (which is arguably not a good thing), and for that reason we might be more honest when speaking in emoji. But remember, this is coming from a guy who opened an analysis with, “Look, we’ve all pointed a gun at a birthday cake at some point in our lives.” So, you know, grain of salt.
In terms of trends, I have noticed that guys use a lot less of the “Smiley” faces, no matter which emotion they convey. This could be because we think these emojis aren’t tough enough, but it’s probably because we’re just afraid of releasing too many feels. The knife emoji shows up way more than I expected, which sort of freaks me out, but not nearly as much as Weary Cat Face which I’m certain is the last thing you see before you die.
The knife thing kind of freaks me out, too. Does the knife come up more than like, the gun or bomb? Are people planning hits via emoji?
The gun comes up a lot, but I think that one’s almost always used in a “FML” capacity than a violent one. The knife (which is actually called “Hocho”) always feels a little more Single White Female-y to me. It’s a crime of passion emoji. The craziest use of the Bomb emoji was when I saw it paired with the Baby, which I like to imagine was sent to someone’s one-night stand with the phrase “We need to talk.”
Is there any reason you think the blog’s caught on to such a degree? Or, to put it another way – why do we care so much about emoji? I wonder if it’s because people find them a truly meaningful, relevant form of communication … or if they’re just zeitgeisty. Probably both!
I think emoji are sort of having a moment right now. (Not gonna say, “emojment.” Not gonna do it.) But with my project coming out, the new emoji announcement dropping a week later, and Conan doing his own emojinalysis last night — which did make me scratch my head a bit, did one of his writers see my site? — they’ve never been more prominently in the public consciousness.
I think first and foremost they’re cute and bizarre, which is a perfect mix for zeitgeisty Internet stuff. But I do think that underneath they do provide a form of expression that normal text messages can’t always match. How else could you tell someone that you ate too many fried poultry legs, got the meat sweats and now feel like a blowfish? Not with words. That would sound crazy.
So how long do you plan to keep this going for?
Typically the Internet gets to decide that. I’ve had a couple other viral hits in the past year (The Broker Bodega and New Yeezy Resolutions), so I know that as I’m approaching my third week, the Hourglass emoji is running out on this one. But lots of people are waiting for their analysis so I’ll keep the practice open as long as I can. And I’m always all-ears for anyone who wants to talk book deals (Winking Face emoji).
Finally, major oversight on my part, I clearly should have asked for your most-used emoji, too! Can you send a screengrab?
The teacher becomes the student, huh? Alright, I guess I can’t say no. Here you are.