The clickbait on CNN (cnn.com) reads Gen Z Says This Emoji Isn’t Cool Anymore. Curious if not outright alarmed, I swirl my finger around on my touchpad, tap, then try to take it all in without panicking.
“New York (CNN Business) Bad news for people who frequently use the 😂 emoji: It is no longer cool,” I learn. First (because you have to in these situations) I take a couple of deep, calming breaths. Didn’t I text my someone recently— it feels like yes—and didn’t I say something I thought was witty, and didn’t I use 😂? Dear God, say it’s not true… but, there it is on my Android. Turns out the occasion wasn’t wit, but embarrassment: after inadvertently thanking my brother for a cake that he did not send me (someone else did) I had followed up that errant message with a jokey, “Oops! Wrong person! Sorry! 😂”
Like words spoken aloud in the presence of others, you can’t take back a text*. This only one of the five things** I loathe about texts: they hang there and taunt you for eternity with your social errors, your misspellings, typos and now, uncool emojis. I feel sad. M doesn’t reply to my apologetic mea culpa over the cake-thanking fiasco, which—even though I myself rarely respond to texts, not because I’m a passive-aggressive jerk (I am not) but because I never hear the alerts and never remember to check for them—is not like him, and I blame the emoji. Guess I am not cool enough now to merit even a friendly “No prob, Sis 👍” Or whatever is cooler than that like, I don’t know, “Geen prombleem, Zus! 👱♂️🤜🏻🏋🏽♀️🇳🇱!” or even just, “🦬.”?
Come on, dude, cut me some slack!
Oh, 💩*** —that’s not cool either. I feel faint, so I crack a beer, which is what I do when life throws me a curveball during Happy Hour. I decide to compose a lighthearted, abashed-but-clever, follow-up text to M, to rectify our apparent falling-out over my lack of coolness. “BRO!” I finger-type, punching at each letter with the stylus of one, stiff pinky since thumbs were not designed for typing. “I was 🙇🏼♀️ to realize that I used 😂 in my earlier message. I know, I know, I must’ve been 🍺👨🏻🎨. Can we just 𓀒 and 🛺🏝⚓️??? I’m your 👩🏻🦳, for 🐡 sake. Bygones! Anyway, also, just wanted to reinforce that I know you did not 📦 me a 🍰.”
Which, in retrospect, seems excessive if not bitter, and after a couple of hours reconsidering, I decide it was a mistake to send it but I don’t know what to do next. I scroll through a dozens of emojis online, all of which, to me, look patently uncool. With such a low bar, I try to understand what the criteria might be for uncoolness among stylemaking Gen-Z-ers. I realize that I’ve long considered ALL emojis, and the word emoji, to be stupider than anything in the whole universe.
Then, mercifully, something gives. I don’t 🛒 a 🐀’s 🍑 anymore. Gen Z-ers and CNN can’t control the 🥔ing frame if I don’t let them. When they first invaded language, I vehemently resisted 😂 and 🥰, 👍 and 💋. Only in the past few years did I allow ❤️❤️❤️ to supplant what xoxoxo had previously done a fine job of expressing, because I wanted to be not sternly traditionalist but playfully 🤷🏼 if not wholly acquiescent. I now realize the extent to which I’ve allowed teenagers and the imperialism of pop culture establish new, impoverished standards for what I’d been raised to understand was good, not bad: the desire and capacity to articulate nuanced experiences, ideas, and feelings, yo.
I recently came into and read a collection of letters and essays written mostly by the male members of my paternal family’s older generations. My father and his cousins grew up on rich bottomland, on a farm in Kansas, near Hiawatha. They were a sprawling, extended family, photographic evidence depicting overalls and haystacks, cornfields, tractors, fishin’ poles, barns. My dad, who went to community college then majored, post-Korea, in English at the University of Denver, earning his graduate degree in Education at the University of Arizona, writes one or two essays a day and has done this for decades. He’s also a skilled code-switcher: he can pepper a conversation with (citational, ironic, or unconscious) breadbasket and military colloquialisms, then deliver an articulate indictment of contemporary political leadership, contextualized by history. Dad’s a philosopher, a voracious reader, and now, at 88, a blogger. The capacity to understand and proficiently use written and spoken English is pure joy to him. Dad’s cousin, Les, has likewise produced eminently-readable, even poignant, essays, from travel memoirs (he was a long-distance biker in earlier years) to compelling depictions of life in Hiawatha in the ’50s, complete with keenly-observed and fascinating portraits of local characters. Even today, he can vividly recall detail of their lives, some of them folks his family knew and others near strangers. Another cousin, Raymond, saw the world through the eyes of a do-er, a hands-on fixer, an engineer, and wrote about life from that perspective. None of them ever used a single emoji, for which I’m grateful, as I’ve enjoyed reading every word of their stories and observations about life.
I suppose what I’m getting at, ultimately, is what Wittgenstein so eloquently put in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus: “The 🚳 of my 👅 are the 🚳 of my 🌏.” It’s a tension, of course, because language is fluid, organic and imaginative, not fixed by its rules but described as much as prescribed by them. Also, most people don’t speak only emoji, so there’s that to refute the sense that the world is going to 😈 in a 🧺
Which has nothing to do with my concern over having outed myself as uncool to my brother, so who cares? I lose another night’s sleep over his radio silence, then am awakened to a text. It is quiet, affectionate yet powerful, a minimalist’s mocking rebuke:
Not even ???, just ? And he did it both effortlessly and emojilessly.
I wonder if M is really that much cooler than I, but of course, he is, and I stand before the evidence, humbled by his eloquence.
*Wait, can you? Text me if yes.
** 1. Pecking at a tiny keyboard 2. Undeniability 3. Phubbing: texts taking precedence over what’s happening in real, physical, face-to-face time 4. The expectation that you’re at the beck and call of your little alert; that you’ll drop everything and reply 5. Autofilling 6. Uncorrectability once sent. That six. So what?
***Did you know you can italicize poop, and this is what it looks like, just a bit leany.