Call Me Email (Emoji Wizz This Is Awkward)

Uh oh.  This has trouble, if not written all over it, then at least in the form of a small symbol.  They look so friendly.  Harmless even.  But nothing could be further from the truth.  One slip of the mouse and you might as well start packing your personal belongings into a small cardboard box.  The difference between triumph and catastrophic disaster has never been so fine.  So precarious.  So colourful.  I speak, of course, of the ‘emoji’ function on the emails at work.

I’ll admit I’m something of a novice when it comes to the emoji.  As best as I can tell, it’s a mysterious subculture that outsiders like myself struggle to make sense of.  On one level, it’s very simple – an emoji smile means you’re happy, just like a regular smile.  An emoji thumbs up is indistinguishable from any other thumbs up, save for the Simpsonesque colour and it has the same basic meaning.  But there’s another, more disturbing level where nothing is as it seems.  This is especially the case when it comes to fruit and vegetables.  An eggplant is no mere aubergine.  Which is disappointing if you’re a fan of eggplant moussaka (and, let’s be honest, who isn’t?).  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg lettuce.

I’ve barely used an emoji in my life.  Put simply, brevity is not my strong suit.  I’d much rather write a small essay than send someone a little yellow face (or a not so yellow eggplant) to communicate my thoughts.  I’m most comfortable when I am showered in words.  The more the merrier.  But things are now moving beyond mere language.  As a species we’ve evolved from rudimentary cave paintings to language and back to rudimentary graphics, albeit on our phones rather than slapped onto a random piece of granite.  Emojis are the way of the future and it’s time to get on board. 

There’s no point resisting.  It won’t be like that time in 1990 when I declared that personal computers were a ‘fad’, that we’d all soon come to our senses and go back to using typewriters.   Not at all.  (And, if you’re curious, this piece was written on a Smith Corona SL 470 – I’m so glad that I purchase typewriter ribbon in bulk!)  Symbols are here to stay.  In fact, at some point I suspect they’ll replace words altogether.  Which would make for a shorter article.  Or, for that matter, a far more succinct novel.  Imagine Herman Melville’s ‘Moby Dick’ as an emoji.  Libraries could downsize to something more like a pantry.   

But the real problem with being able to send work colleagues an emoji is the risk that you might send them the wrong emoji.  That’s because they ‘smiley face’ emoji – which would absolutely be my emoji of choice in a work setting – has been placed right next to the ‘love heart’ emoji.  There is, I feel, a world of difference between a smiley face emoji and a love heart.  They’re not different points of the same scale.  But despite this world of difference, on the email system they’re right next to each other which means that you only have to sneeze at the wrong moment and, suddenly, HR’s involved.

I don’t care how much colleagues like my email reminding them to use the recycle bins, it won’t deserve a love heart emoji.  And I’d be horrified if, in responding, I missed the smiley face and hit the love heart instead.  By any measure, it would be an odd response to a spreadsheet with last quarter’s sale figures.

To be fair, I should have seen it coming.  For a while now, some of the platforms have allowed the use of ‘gifs’ – small pieces of footage that convey some kind of point, usually by appropriating a piece of pop culture ephemera that either delights or mystifies the people you work with.  Despite my lack of experience in the world of emojis, I am black belt at sending gifs. 

Selecting the right gif is harder than you think.  You’ve got to keep in light hearted without going so far as to insult anyone.  Typically, I like to find something from an old movie or television show to get my point across.  Sometimes it works.  Other times it proves that I’m older than many of those with whom I work and they have no idea what it is I’m talking about. 

When my gifs hit the mark, I receive a ton of ‘thumbs up’ emojis.  When they don’t, I receive nothing but silence and a wide-berth in the corridor.  There’s nothing quite like silence to age-shame you at work.

Change is the only constant.  It’s better to embrace it.  Already, I’ve deployed the emoji function in responding to emails.  To date, there have been no incidents of the love-heart variety.  That’s because of instead of flicking off a quick emoji, I approach emoji selection with all the dutiful care and preparation of a shuttle launch.  I’m sure that whoever decided to include emojis in emails thought they would save time, but I am determined to prove them wrong.

Frankly, it’s hard to keep up with rapidly changing social expectations.  It leaves me feeling fascinated but slightly apprehensive as to what the future may hold.  I don’t how else to describe that feeling, but I’ll bet there’s an emoji for it. 

When Emojis Attack!  Tales of A Truly Lost Weekend

We were looking forward to it.  Finally, after months of talking, we’d booked a weekend away in regional Victoria.  It would be peaceful.  It would be tranquil.  It would be everything we’d hoped it would be.  But, in the age of Covid, even the best laid plans can be unlaid, and when a member of the family tested positive, everyone in the house was a close contact.  Our plans were scuppered to the point they were entirely and irretrievably unscupperable.

To describe ourselves as ‘disappointed’ would be like referring to the sinking of the Titanic as ‘a bit of a let down’.  We were completely devastated.  Not only could we not go, we now had to unpick our arrangements and reschedule.  This proved more difficult than we thought.

Our dinner reservations were simple enough – we just had to cancel.  There was no consequence and no judgment and we’ll definitely be going back there at the first opportunity.  We’d also booked in a fancy treatment.  Initially, they asked for evidence of isolation and, for a moment, I contemplated sending a picture of a really unhappy nine year old, before they agreed to a refund in a mere seven to ten days.  Granted, a refund would probably take upwards of a minute, maybe two, but I didn’t feel it was my place to quibble.  

Then there was the accommodation.  When we let them know, they were quick to respond.  The email was dripping with sympathy, so much so that it was practically wet when it arrived.  They expressed shock at this terrible turn of events.  They expressed concern for our wellbeing and for those around us. They expressed their steely-eyed determination to charge us the full amount, regardless of the fact that we were no longer able to come.

I get it – why should they lose income as a result of our misfortune?  But this was three days in advance and their chances of finding another customer was about as certain as the sun coming up.  Odds were they’d lose nothing at all. To be clear, their intention to charge us the full, unholy whack was not contingent on whether or not they could replace us – they were going to do it regardless.  Most people try to help when your plans get blown out of the water because of Covid.  This person was an exception to that rule.  What came next only made things worse.

In addition to offering to charge us for accommodation we were now legally forbidden from using, they sought to soften the blow with a hammer.  In a futile bid to make us feel better, they offered us a fifty percent discount on our next stay, so long as it was midweek.  As a result, not only were they proposing to take money for a thing we couldn’t have, they were now offering us a discount for something we had no intention whatsoever of using.  Because, having been dudded once, our next booking with them was likely to be once hell had, officially, frozen over.

I can only assume that the property manager had a whole lot of salt she was desperate to be rid of.  For nothing else could explain why she so eagerly sought to rub large quantities of the stuff into our still-festering wound. Having declared that she’d be taking our money and offering us something we’d never use, she then signed off with a smiley face Emoji.

In the name of all that is holy, how dare she!  That’s like Napoleon Bonaparte sending a text message to Tsar Alexander, telling him he’s about to invade Russia and ending the message with the ‘thumbs up’.  Or Winston Churchill finishing his ‘we will fight them on the beaches’ speech with the ‘laughing face with tears’ Emoji.  

When judges hand down a life sentence, they don’t sign off with ‘heart eyes’.  That would be confusing for everyone.  It was outrageous.  The ‘smiley face’ was simply not suited to the circumstances.  It’s as though she was going out of her way to antagonize us further.  It was highly effective.  

There should be a law against using inappropriate Emojis.  I assumed the sender was illiterate, because she was certainly failing to read the room.  I don’t know much about Emojis, except there’s one for every occasion.  Rather than a ‘smiley face’ perhaps something like a ‘skull and crossbones’ would have been closer to the mark.  I, naturally enough, had a very specific Emoji in mind for my reply.

What kind of monster ransacks you and then winks?  Obviously, I turned to the internet for answers.  The website said in the event of a Covid disaster that you should try and reach a resolution with the property manager.  Easier said than done – the flagrant misuse of the smiley face Emoji made it clear that we were dealing with a bona fide psychopath. Instead, I took the high road, letting her know that some members of our family would be making use of the property.  That the family members in question were two goats and a half tonne heifer with a passion for eating furniture was beside the point.  I’ll let her know after they their stay.  And I’ll be sure to sign off with a suitable Emoji.