Since November 9, I’ve been thinking nonstop about why I so hotly dislike GIFs, emojis–all the visual options that now exist in lieu of words. Essentially, all these visual codes train us to stop articulating ourselves–to rely on limited pre/post-literate symbols for self-expression rather than this handy, deeply nuanced system of symbols we’ve already developed called LANGUAGE. This mutation of expression is dangerous. Really dangerous. For the less we use our power of articulation, the less available it is to us. All muscles atrophy when not regularly deployed, and we are in a national crisis in which all our critical facilities are vital in order to resist fascism; we must be able to describe the beast if we are to defeat it.
To be clear, it’s not that I don’t appreciate the ease of emojis. I even use them sometimes, but I find that curtailing my impulse to do so forces me to be more deliberate about engagement. I tell myself: If you don’t have something real to say, don’t say anything. It’s also not that I don’t respect the power of imagery. I do, profoundly. But there is something really limited (creepy, even) about only receiving pictures from a person with whom you ostensibly are having a conversation; it demotes you from ally to audience, for one thing.
My friend Kitty says we’re returning to an era of hieroglyphics, and I fear she’s right. The dumbing down of America is happening on every level, and it’s how a reality TV oligarch slithered into the highest office in the land. Yes, he tapped into an ugly core of hatred and white entitlement that’s always lurked in our country. But I truly believe that after a 50-year decline in U.S. public education, many voters simply did not grasp the historical, economic, and moral implications of this man’s ascent. (To wit: I’ve yet to read a pro-Trump argument that is properly spelled and punctuated, and is grammatically correct.) As fellow space crone Caroline Contillo has said to me, “I think of language as the technology (not the only one but a big one) developed by humans to create the imaginative bridge to another person’s subjectivity.” In other words, language encourages empathy, which is the deepest enemy of a fascist state; surely Orwell would have included emojiis in 1984 had they existed at the time of publication. So what do you say? Let’s not sad-face the erosion of our civil rights.