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Emojis don't take away from words, they clarify them.

Summary: While many might lament that texting is not writing, and Twitter is not literature, it is more useful to see where we've arrived at, rather than what we...

How many tabs do you have open at this moment? More than a dozen? If you are reading this on your phone, more than 30? How many of those tabs have you bookmarked? How many have you started, and wish to complete, but haven't done so in more than a month? How many have you opened for their headline and strap, but are yet to proceed to the body text?

Looking at my reading, I realise online reading is like a buffet dinner. The diner goes from dish to dish, tab to tab, serving herself what she wants. She is not obliged to finish what is placed below the cloche in front of her. This is not the a la carte dining of yore, where you could only take out two books from your library at a time, so you'd choose those books with great care and persevere through them no matter what.

Today, the reader is the master of her plate: she can curate her readings to square perfectly with her choices, her whims, her moods. A little bit of politics, a dash of Hollywood gossip, a grand helping of history and a dessert of comics - the dinner plate is complete.

When we read online, we read in widening spirals rather than straight lines. We start at a point, but then move in whirls of discoveries, as each hyperlink offers its own story, its own chapter. We can travel to the hyperlink and return to our original destination, or we can choose a new trajectory altogether.

Even on social media, we read posts in isolation and they make complete sense, but we can also read them as part of a larger ongoing conversation. Today we read in chunks and bits, and not always in fulls and wholes, and then discard it all.

In the last decade, how we read and write have changed fundamentally. While many might lament that texting is not writing, and Twitter is not literature, it is more useful to see where we've arrived at, rather than what we've left behind.

Texting is not an inferior mode of communication, it is an effective one, as it reduces the possibilities of misunderstandings. Putting something down in writing, most often (not always), is to make clear and creates a guarantee for the future. Don't you silently groan if a relative stranger dares to ring? Don't we mutter to ourselves, 'Why couldn't he just text?' Don't we prefer the efficiency and brevity of texts to the jibber- jabber of a conversation with an acquaintance?

Prudes often scorn the use of emojis. But emojis are the punctuation marks of today; they don't take away from words, instead they clarify them. They insert emotion and passion into texts. They animate a conversation, making it flesh and blood. An emoji lessens the distance between communicators, by helping to make our intended meaning known.

Emojis might be a sign of millennial text, but in many ways they hark back to the hieroglyphs of our ancestors. The pictorial script invented by the Egyptians dates back to BCE 3,000 and marked the beginning of the Egyptian civilisation. Emojis perform the same function as hieroglyphs by representing the image of a thing or action and conveying the precise meaning.

In 2015, 'Emojis' became Oxford Dictionaries' 'Word' of the Year. This proves that the laugh-till-I-cry face is not just a millennial shorthand, but rather a defining image of our communication.

As reported in Wired, the Oxford English Dictionary adds about 1,000 new words every year to its existing 600,000 entries. Unicode (the UN of emojis) adds new emojis at about 35 times that rate. The addition of these icons highlights the beauty of language - language is not static, rather it is a forever evolving body of knowledge. The power of language is that it always has an ear to the ground, attuned to the changes in society.

Emojis democratise language, as anyone can understand a smiley face from a sad one.

Since emojis centre only around nouns and verbs, they spurn the rules of grammar altogether. By ignoring grammar, they are the most democratic mode of communication. As the types and kinds of emojis explode, it is certain that they will play an increasingly greater role in how we communicate in the future.

The reader of today is one who exploits the possibilities of the web by tapping into its unlimited sources. She will not read something that doesn't hold her interest, and while that is ideal for every reader, it also makes the job of the writer that much harder. How is a writer to keep a reader in his thrall, when she can silence him with a single click and a switch of the tabs? The writer who will stay relevant is one who is creating a new type of digital language, which crosses cultural and geographic borders and which is truly universal in nature.

- Open magazine

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Publication:Khaleej Times (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
Date:Jul 22, 2019
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