Scrolling through Instagram recently, I saw a picture that an old friend from high school had posted of his dad with the caption announcing his father’s death. It was terrible news, and I immediately texted him to express my condolences. After a brief back-and-forth, I sent him another message to let him know that I was thinking of him and punctuated my message with a crying-face emoji (you know, the one with a frowning yellow face shedding a single tear). But as soon as I heard the familiar whoosh of a sent message, I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. Was my use of an emoji insensitive? Did it make a serious sentiment seem less so—cartoonish, even? Had our (OK, my) relationship with emojis gone too far?
According to one UK study, emojis are the fastest-growing language in history. And in theory, the more people who share a common language, the more connected to one another we should be. But I know I’m not the only person who frequently selects an emoji on autopilot. (Friend’s birthday? Balloon emoji. What do you want for dinner tonight? Pasta emoji.)
Is relying on these little icons as a means to express our emotions making us lazy? I reached out to psychologist Dr. Danielle Forshee to get her take.
“So much of our communication now is done via text message or social media, and in these forms, we use words to express ourselves, but we’re missing that face-to-face contact of looking at the person and seeing the expression that comes along with the words,” she explains. “And so we tend to use a lot of emojis, especially women, to express nonverbal cues.”