Emojis: Source of Intergenerational Miscommunication

___________________

By Aishi Debroy, Opinion Editor Recently, my grandmother sent the smiley-face-with-long-eyes emoji — unaware of its connotation — to congratulate me. I was shocked. Did she really mean it? Starting to speculate her intent for a fleeting second, I came to my senses and acknowledged that she didn’t understand the ongoing cultural shifts regarding emoji...

By Aishi Debroy, Opinion Editor

Recently, my grandmother sent the smiley-face-with-long-eyes emoji — unaware of its connotation — to congratulate me. I was shocked. Did she really mean it? Starting to speculate her intent for a fleeting second, I came to my senses and acknowledged that she didn’t understand the ongoing cultural shifts regarding emoji usage. Honestly, she most likely approached sending that emoji from a logical standpoint: a smiley face emoji should probably represent a smiling face. Wrong. Rather than used for its intended purpose, the smiley face has adopted a sarcastic, even passive-aggressive, connotation. 

Due to the constantly evolving political and social environment, generational gaps have existed for centuries: Beatlemaniacs versus Beliebers, cable watchers versus Netflix viewers, and lovers of dad jokes versus memes. But, one monumental misunderstanding overwhelmingly separates the younger and older generations of today: the interpretation of emojis. Our parents and grandparents repeatedly misinterpret and redefine undertones of emoji lexicon. When asked for an explanation, we can’t help but state: “You wouldn’t understand.” Truly, the mastery of emojis is an innate skill of youth today. 

Generation Z’s pessimistic worldview and appreciation for dark humor causes major shifts in the meaning of emojis. For instance, the laughing emoji with tears of joy is outdated — even deemed “uncool.” (Sorry, millennials). Instead, to express laughter or enjoyment, the skull emoji is often used, symbolizing that we’ve essentially laughed ourselves to death. Sending that emoji after a sincere, depressing message will unconsciously encourage chuckles from younger people. Sure, it’s quite morbid, but the ability to transform our cynical outlooks on life into comedic relief unifies youth across socioeconomic, cultural and ethnic lines. 

Social media trends —– predominantly from TikTok and Instagram —– are often the source of emojis’ meanings transitioning. The heart emoji portrays genuine love and affection, but if a sparkly emoji is attached to its end, the phrase takes on the complete opposite meaning —– one that is caustic and unkind. The dictionary definition of the “sparkly emoji” expresses  “excitement and admiration.” But if you ask any Gen Zer, they’ll tell you the opposite, even warning you from using it if your message isn’t intended to be sassy. The rapid changes in what Gen Z finds humorous or trendy influences the connotation of emojis that are frequently used, leaving our parents and grandparents completely in the dark. 

To give the older generation a break, researchers have found that the misinterpretation of emojis can cross generational lines. In fact, GroupLens researcher Hannah Miller found that people, in general, interpret identical emojis differently. Frankly, the user’s most frequently visited social media sites largely impact their interpretation of a certain emoji. However, the sheer accessibility of these sites makes it highly unlikely that the average teen won’t be exposed to cultural shifts prevalent in at least one of them. 

Sure, bridging generation gaps can feel near impossible sometimes.

“Grandma, no, you can’t use the middle finger emoji to refer to the text message above.”

But, preventing older generations’ use of outlandish emojis in incorrect situations requires a simple step: sparking conversations about the different meanings. Discussing the latest shifts in humor offers an opportunity to better understand teen culture today and encourages more intentional and effective application of emojis. 


Aishi Debroy can be reached at [email protected]

© 2022 Spoke.News. All rights reserved.