Earlier this month, Sony Pictures released The Emoji Movie.
Emoji, the successors to emoticons, were invented in Japan in the late 1990s. Their popularity rose along with the widespread use of social media and smartphones. They’re the ideal tool for a generation who want their communications to be as rapid as possible, whilst maintaining personality – an emoji speaks a thousand words. They’re a powerful way of interacting too; studies have found that people react to emoji and emoticons depicting faces in the same way that they do to real human faces.
Such is the emoji’s cultural dominance that the Oxford English Dictionary controversially selected ‘Face with Tears of Joy’ as its Word of the Year for 2015. Their statement said: ‘emoji have come to embody a core aspect of living in a digital world that is visually driven, emotionally expressive, and obsessively immediate.’ And now they even have their own film.
Many Christians have adopted the use of emoji, commandeering the ‘folded hands’ to mean ‘prayer’, and the ‘celebration hands’ to mean ‘praise the lord’. Sending an emoji is a speedy way to empathise with someone and tell them you’re praying for them or thanking the Lord on their behalf. Using one of the popular heart icons is a quick way to express your love. As responses, they offer an easy and effective way to ‘rejoice with those who rejoice’ and ‘mourn with those who mourn’ (Romans 12:15). In these moments, emoji are a fantastic tool to help us communicate.
But sometimes they’re a little too easy. The ease and immediacy of sending a quick emoji can sometimes lead us to forget that we are to be genuine in our love (Romans 12:9) and faithful in our prayers (12:12). We can be drawn in by the immediacy of the communication offered by emoji and forget that some emotions require more than two taps of our finger to express.
Sometimes to love is not easy, to rejoice is not easy, to pray is not easy. Some emotions are simply too complex to convey in a single image. In those moments, let’s take the time to step outside of the digital world to share our emotions. Where and when we can, let’s show our real human faces to each other, and share our joys and sorrows using words – thousands if necessary.
Rachel Helen Smith
Rachel works in marketing and attends Kings Church, Durham