Communication preferences and technological advances are two major aspects that define a generation and distinguish it from its predecessors. Millennials are known for their lax way of speaking, rife with contractions, portmanteaux and “initialisms” (LOL, BTW, TTYL, etc.), which might aggravate their older colleagues, but it seems as if the next generation, iGen or Gen Z, might be eschewing words and letters altogether.
If you’ve sent any text messages at all in the past year, it’s extremely likely that you’ve sent or received at least one emoji. They are small digital images, icons and symbols used to express an idea or emotion in text messages and other online communications. Now it seems as if emoji have transcended mere decoration for texts and Tweets and have become a means of communication unto themselves.
“Emoji are doing something that text cannot do: conveying emotion and subtlety of thought that you might not be able to do with just a word or two,” explains Fred Benenson, author of How to Speak Emoji, in an interview with Popular Science. “There’s a whole swath of human communication that we’ve been losing out on in text messages for years. Ever since the majority of people switched to using text messages and email to communicate, we’ve been missing some of the nuance of the tone of people’s voices, the expressions on their faces. So you can see emoji as a reaction to that.”
Of course it helps that emoji are compatible with most smartphones and are so easy to use that almost everyone with two thumbs can select an appropriate emoji for every occasion. And whereas most use them only for fun, certain brands are harnessing the power of emoji to stay relevant and competitive with the next generation, known as iGen, Gen Z or Centennials. Take Domino’s for example: The fast-food pizza chain introduced the ability to order a pizza by tweeting or texting a pizza emoji. Even online retailer Shop Jeen now optimizes its user experience with emoji.
Not to be left out of the loop, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg is tapping into the power of emoji via the development of “Reactions,” a new feature for responding to images and posts that offers users more than one thumbs-up “Like” option. Currently only being tested in Spain and Ireland, the alternative emojis include symbols for “Love,” “Haha,” “Yay,” “Wow,” “Sad” and “Angry.”
It will be interesting to see how the increased use of emoji in everyday life affects communication across all generations and how it will transform social media, retail and society as a whole. If Benenson is truly onto something, this wave of emoji will actually improve virtual communication…one smiley face at a time.