Emojis: Yea or Nay?

hieroglyphs emojis
I approached this blog with the opinion that relying on emoticons—i.e., emojis—is dulling out ability to express emotions with rich language and subtlety. How can one retain, let alone develop, verbal and written skill if it isn’t practiced? The above image seemed to confirm my opinion: if hieroglyphics were sufficient for purposes of communication, why did other forms develop?
I searched online and did find some support for my original opinion. One study by YouTube (a survey of 2000, ages 16-65) found that 94% believe there has been a decline in the correct use of English, 80% of those saying youngsters are the worse culprits. Over a third of British adults believe that emojis are responsible for the deterioration of the English language—less command of spelling and grammar, due to use of spell check and predictive text. Although emojis convey a message, they breed laziness, diluting language expression. A common prejudice is that an emoji is the equivalent of a grunt, a step back in literacy, making us poorer communicators and maybe even dumber.

 

But all of this reflects what people think or feelWhere are the data? Academic research warns that peppering an email with emojis could harm your job prospects by making colleagues less likely to share information with you. Using emojis in the workplace doesn’t increase perceptions of warmth, it actually decreases perceptions of competence.

 

On the other hand, research commissioned by the dating site Match.com, released in 2017, a survey of 5600 singles found that the more emojis people used in their texts, the more dates—and sex—they have. The inference from this research was that using emojis made it easier for the potential match to gauge the message. Emoji users were concluded to be more effective communicators.

 

Originating on Japanese mobile phones in 1999, they’ve become increasingly popular worldwide since then. When Apple released a set of emojis in 2011, the uptake of emoji took off. Emojis to replicate non-verbal communication are used six billion times a day. Over time, the options to refine a particular emotional expression have increased.

 

When you look back over time, the power of image has always been there. Even prehistoric images such as cave paintings have been incredibly communicative: we can analyze those drawings and understand them thousands of years later. Pictures have the ability to transcend time and language—to be universal.

 

emojis yae nay
In the course of my reading, I found that Alexandre Loktiov, an expert on hieroglyphics and cuneiform legal texts, had this to say: “For me, they’re essentially hieroglyphs and so a perfectly legitimate extension of language. They’re signs which, without having a phonetic value of their own, can ‘color’ the meaning of the preceding word or phrase. In Egyptology, these are called ‘determinatives’—as they determine how written words should be understood. The concept has been around for 5,000 years, and it’s remarkably versatile because of its efficiency. You can cut down your character count if you supplement words with pictures—and that’s useful both to Twitter users today and to Ancient Egyptians laboriously carving signs into a rock stela.”

 

Emojis break down language barriers because people understand what the symbols mean, regardless of their native tongue. Perhaps its possible to learn a lot about a person from their preferred emojis. On the other hand, problems with emojis include cultural differences in the meaning of a given image. For example, two flagrant cases: apparently an eggplant has been taken up as a representative of a penis, a peach as a stand-in for a buttocks. One might inadvertently offend the recipient, even in more subtle ways. Public demand led to the option of modifying skin tone on the emoji.

 

emojis yae nay
[Source: TechCrunch]
In face-to-face interaction, up to 70% of emotional meaning is communicated via nonverbal cues. These include tone of voice, eye gaze, body language, gestures, and facial expression. Vyvyan Evans, an expert on language and digital communication, maintains that the emoji’s primary function is not to usurp language but to fill in the emotional cues otherwise missing from typed conversations.

 

He also had this to say: To assert that emojis will make us poorer communicators is like saying facial expressions make your emotions harder to read. The idea is nonsensical. It’s a false analogy to compare emojis to the language of Shakespeare—or even to language at all. Emojis don’t replace language: they provide the nonverbal cues, fit for the purpose in our digital textspeak, that helps us nuance and complement what we mean by our words.
One thing is sure: emojis are not only an integral part of e-communication. They are embedded in popular culture, and are making inroads in the general culture.

 

  • Over 90% of the world’s 3.2 billion internet users regularly send “picture characters” (as the word means in Japanese) with over 5 billion being transmitted everyday on Facebook Messenger alone.
  • The 2009 movie Moon features a robot who communicates in a neutral-tone synthesized voice plus a screen showing an emoji representing the corresponding emotional content.
  • In 2014, the Library of Congress acquired an emoji version of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.
  • In 2015, Oxford Dictionaries named the Face with Tears of Joy emoji the Word of the Year.
  • May 2016, Emojiland, a musical, premiered in Los Angeles.
  • October 2016, the Museum of Modern Art acquired the original collection of emojis from 1999.
  • November 2016, the first emoji convention, Emojicon, was held in San Francisco.
  •  In 2016, a High Court judge in England included a smiley face emoji in an official ruling, in an attempt to make the judgment in family court clear for the children it affected.
  • March 2017, the first episode of Samurai Jack featured alien characters who communicate in emojis.
  • April 2017, Doctor Who featured nanobots, called Emojibots, who communicate using emojis only.
  • July 2017 Sony Pictures Animation released The Emoji Movie.
 
 
Alexandre Loktionov (mentioned above) said “. . .we have to think of the purpose of the means of communication, and in the case of emoji, we as a culture need to decide what they are: do we want them to be a bona fide script with full capability, or are they just a tool reserved for very specific purposes (alongside conventional means of writing)?”

 

In conversation with other writers, it seems we/they use emojis for specific purposes, limited entirely to electronic communications. For literary writing, they are irrelevant.
 
Some have asserted that the emoji is the fastest-growing language in history—for good or ill.  How do you feel about emojis? If you use them, how?
 

Clichés—True But Tired!

Today’s blog is actually less a blog than a rant, a list of true but trite phrases that mark writing as unimaginative. So here goes.

bird hand
A bird in the hand
A piece of cake
Abject terror
Alcoholic haze
Angelic smile
Black as coal
Black as midnight
Black as sin
Bone chilling
Brothers in arms
cliches true tired
Cat-like
Catastrophic
Doe eyed
Drunken frenzy
Dumb as a stump
Easy as pie
Evil through and through
Eyes like saucers
Fighting tooth and nail
Guilty as sin
Hair raising
Heart pounding
heart pounding stopping
Heart stopping
Herd mentality
High as a kite
Honey tongued
Lion-hearted
Moaning and groaning
Need to know
Nubile young thing
Old as dirt
Paralyzed in fear
Pure as the driven snow
pure driven snow
Ran for his/her life
Rich as Croesus
Roaring like a lion
Rock hard
Scared stiff
Scared to death
Smoke and mirrors
Smooth as silk
Soft as butter
Soft as cotton
soft cotton
Strong as Atlas
Stood stock still
Sweet as sugar
The Midas touch
Tight as a tic
Tried and true
Walking on eggshells
Warm as toast
White as snow
Yelling like a banshee

Come up with better options. What are your pet clichés? Help your fellow writers by adding to the list!

When Writers Wait

when writers wait
Writers, like everyone else, can—and often do—use wait-time to read, check Facebook, etc. But writers have so many more options!

 

Things to do during any wait

 
when writers wait
Practice describing: Choose any one person and describe him/her in detail, and as vividly as possible. For the most benefit of this practice, try describing both stand-out characters and those who look as ordinary as possible.

 

when writers wait
Practice judging a book by its cover: Which is to say, consider another waiting person and, on the basis of what s/he is wearing, imagine socio-economic class, education, type of job, personality, and anything else that comes to mind.

 

Practice noticing non-verbals and extrapolating from them: If a man is fidgeting, repeatedly checking the time, etc., maybe his marriage is precarious, and he’s imagining confronting his wife, saying, “I swear! I was standing in the post office line the entire time!”
when writers wait
 
How are the waiters behaving? Is there generally patience, politeness, and/or acceptance? Grumbling, swearing, people leaving? What might contribute to the ambiance? Size of community? Geography? (E.g., Richmond vs. New York City.) Consider what would happen if someone behaved differently from the majority.

 

Practice disrupting the status quo: Do something unexpected, even if minor, and observe the responses around you. For example, sway from side to side, pat the top of your head, march in place, etc., and keep doing it. Don’t make eye contact—and don’t laugh!

 

Practice introspection: When stuck with a long wait—longer than expected—how are you feeling? Check your visceral reactions: breathing, muscle tension, heart rate, stomach. Are you relaxed, tense, bored, impatient, or something else? What are your inclinations—stay, leave, sigh audibly, complain loudly, try to jump the line, seek redress with someone who seems to be a gatekeeper, or something else? Why do you act on those inclinations—or not?

 

Things to do while waiting when noise isn’t an issue

when writers wait
Listen to ring tones: Try to identify them, or at least get the rhythm, and extrapolate from that their personality.

 

Practice eavesdropping—and spin a story from it: A woman says, “I noticed that your wife is wearing orthopedic boots.” Man says, “She has diabetes, and doesn’t have any toes on her left foot. She doesn’t have a big toe on her right foot. The boots are so she can try to balance.”  Listen to mobile phone conversations and proceed as above.

 

Incite responses: This is in line with disrupting the status quo. Say something outrageous! You can say it to someone else in line or you can pretend to have a mobile call and let others in the line “overhear” you saying something outrageous. For example, “I’ve had sex with thirteen men—and, no, I’m not promiscuous!”

 

Opportunities in specific places

when writers wait
Airports: Where is s/he going? Why? What’s in his/her carry-on? Traveling coach or first class? Why was s/he pulled aside for further security screening? Is this person traveling alone or not? Is it a family? Business colleagues? Lovers?

 

doctor waiting room
Doctor’s/dentist’s office: What’s his/her condition? Is it terminal? Does that bald person have cancer? Does that person have reason to be nervous or is it just “white coat syndrome”? If the former, what reasons? If the latter, what is the origin?

 

grocery store cart
Grocery store: Check out the carts around you. Is this person shopping for one or a family? Is this a health-food nut or a snack food junkie? Omnivore or vegan? What does it say if the other shopper brought bags, asks for paper, or goes plastic?

 

waiting in line
BOTTOM LINE: Use your waits to build your writing arsenal!

Writing Roundup: Toxic Relationships

writing roundup toxic relationships

Are you an author in need of resources for writing toxic relationships? Look no further! Here is a roundup of some of my posts detailing ways in which you can write such dynamics.

Do you have any suggestions for additional posts or questions about toxic relationships? Let me know!

How Not to Cry

how not cry

I’m a cryer. I cry at weddings and funerals, during the sad parts of good movies or books. In any given situation where it is appropriate to cry, I do. The downside is that I sometimes feel the urge to cry when—at least in my opinion—it is NOT appropriate. The prime example is that I tend to cry when I am furious at something or someone.

 

It turns out, there’s advice for that.

 

how not cry
Yar starts by acknowledging that there are times when people just don’t want to cry—e.g. in public places or at work. As I write, I’ll use “she” and “her” because women are more likely than men to cry. Indeed, 41% of women reported crying at work, compared to 9% for men. So, if you or your character doesn’t want to cry, here’s what Yar recommends.

 

  1. Provide a prop, such as a stress ball or scribble pad. Doing something with her hand might distract her.
  2. Have her pinch the skin between her thumb and pointer finger. Tensing the muscles and doing something may make her feel less helpless. Apparently feeling passive and/or helpless often causes tears.
  3. Have her take deep, cleansing breaths. It facilitates feeling calm.
  4. She can pinch the bridge of her nose, near the tear ducts. Indeed, any self-inflicted pain (within limits) can be distracting.
  5. She can tilt her head back. The tears will literally not overflow for a second or two, providing time to focus on something else.
  6. She should literally step back from the situation and maintain a neutral facial expression while considering why she feels like crying.
  7. She can inform bystanders that she needs a moment to gather her thoughts and has to step away for a bit. She may then cry a bit or get over it, but no one will be watching.
While showing strong emotions is easy when you want to show it, showing efforts to suppress strong emotions is often more difficult. Using the techniques above, your reader will get what’s going on without stating it in the narrative.

Writing Roundup: Psychology for Writers

writing roundup psychology writers

I’ve written quite a few blog posts about psychology for writers. I’ve rounded them all up for you here in one convenient place so that you can browse at your leisure!

Do you have any suggestions for additional posts or questions about psychology for writers? Let me know!

Weather for Writers

weather writers
Recently I—along with my plants—have been suffering from the heat. They wilt and wither. I feel lethargic and grumpy. I’m not alone in this. From back in the day when I taught psychology, I’m well aware that weather affects mood and behavior. Indeed, hot summer months are associated with lower mood, and humidity tends to make people more tired and irritable.

 

And it occurs to me, writers might like to know the effects of weather that have been scientifically studied.
 
weather writers
 
SUNSHINE
 
Perhaps one of the best known effects is that people like sunshine—but only if you are able to get out in it. Otherwise, moods likely plummet for people stuck indoors.

 

Pleasant spring weather is associated with higher mood, better memory, and other good cognitive functions.

 

Drivers are more likely to pick up hitchhikers on sunny days than on cloudy days.

 

On sunny days people are more likely to help each other.

 

And Minnesotans tip more generously in restaurants when it’s sunny.

 

College applicants’ non-academic attributes are weighted more heavily on sunny days.

 

On sunny days, a woman is likely to give her phone number to an attractive stranger 22% of the time (compared to 14% of the time on cloudy days).

 

People spend more money when it’s sunny.

 

Being outside during pleasant weather can improve memory and boost creativity.

 

CLOUDS AND RAIN
On the good side, people recall up to seven times more objects when quizzed on cloudy days compared to sunny ones.

 

College applicants’ academic attributes are weighted more heavily on cloudy days. I love the title of this study: Clouds Make Nerds Look Good.

 

On the bad side, as noted above, hitchhikers fare worse on cloudy days.

 

On rainy days, people feel less satisfied with their lives.

 

Changes in barometric pressure can affect mood and cause headaches.

 

Rain can cause you to eat more, especially carbs.

 

Rain can cause pain. Because of the reduction in atmospheric pressure there is an increase in stiffness and a reduction in mobility. Yes, Granny’s knees predicting the weather is supported by science.

 

Some studies have found a relationship between low barometric pressure and suicide.

 

thermometer weather writers
TEMPERATURE
 
The ideal temperature for helping is 68 degrees F. The more the temperature goes above or below that, the lower the rates of helping.

 

Crime rates rise with temperature. During the summer, rates for serious violent crimes, household burglary, and household property damage are significantly higher.

 

Rates of aggression—everything from murders and riots to horn-honking—are higher in hotter years, months, days, and times of day.

 

Baseball pitchers are more likely to hit batters on hot days.

 

Journalists tend to use more negative words on hotter days.

 

Cold temperatures can lead to physical lethargy (much like too much heat).

 

weather writers
WINTER
Lack of sufficient sunshine in winter causes some people to become depressed, a syndrome known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It can be treated with light therapy. SAD is sometimes referred to as winter depression. It typically affects people from October through April.

 

Seasonal depression may be mediated by loss of vitamin D (the sunshine vitamin). People suffering anxiety and depression are more likely to have vitamin D deficiency, and seniors with the lowest levels of vitamin D were 11 times more likely to be depressed than those with normal levels.

 

Cold temperatures: see above.

 

weather writers
The effects of weather on mood are a combination of biological, psychological, and social. If you need to know why weather is causing your characters to act in specific ways, you can delve into that online!

 

weather writers

Writers on Writing

Who is more qualified to talk about writing than some of the world’s most beloved authors? Here is some writing advice from the greats, along with some (hopefully) inspirational photos of their writing spaces.

Elmore Leonard is one of many authors who doles out writing advice:

  • “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”
  • “You have to listen to your characters.”
  • “Try to get a rhythm.”
  • “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them.”

elmore leonard
[Source: Bronx Banter]
I’ve written about Stephen King before, but he always has great words of wisdom, such as:

  • “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs.”
  • “The scariest moment is always just before you start.”
  • “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”

stephen king writing office
[Source: NPR]
Virginia Woolf had much to say on the subject:

  • “How can you learn to write if you write only about one single person?”
  • “…in literature it is necessary to have some means of bridging the gulf between… the writer and his unknown reader.”
  • “‘The proper stuff of fiction’ does not exist; everything is the proper stuff of fiction, every feeling, every thought; every quality of brain and spirit is drawn upon, no perception comes amiss.”
  • “For heaven’s sake, publish nothing before you are thirty.”

virginia woolf office
[Source: The Guardian]
What is your favorite piece of writing advice? From which author would you most want to take writing advice?

Writing 101: Psychology of Uncertainty

psychology uncertainty

Better the devil you know. . .

. . .than the devil you don’t.

 

Perhaps you’ve heard this bit of folk wisdom. It reflects the common understanding that people abhor uncertainty. Predictability is a desired state, even if what is being predicted is negative—to the point of being disastrous, dangerous to the point of being life-threatening.

 

Think prisoners/captives: one powerful way to break down their resistance, to garner compliance, is to increase their uncertainty. This can be done handily by having no natural daylight, and artificial light that cycles on randomly, along with an unpredictable eating schedule, unannounced questioning sessions that sometimes include physical abuse and sometimes don’t—anything that is disorienting.

 

Whole books have been written on uncertainty and its management. For example, see Psychology of Uncertainty by J.D. Smith, W.E. Shields, D.P. Britzman, D. Brothers, and K. Gordon; or The Social Psychology of Uncertainty management and System Justification  by K. VandenBos.

 

The takeaway for writers is that to increase tension, increase uncertainty, decrease predictability.

Given the examples above, the application to action/adventure plots is obvious, but this writing rule applies across genres. Will he/won’t he call? Does she love me or not? Will this disease kill my child? Will my boss understand if I miss another staff meeting? Will I miss my plane? Does the murderer suspect that I know he did it? If your story unfolds in a predictable pattern, your reader will lose interest. Why bother to read what you know is going to happen? Perhaps truly fabulous prose will keep some readers going, but why depend only on that?