A New York City couple spent a month using only emojis instead of written words to communicate in their text messages, and weirdly enough, it didn’t totally wreak havoc on their relationship. Alex Goldmark, who works at WNYC’s New Tech City, thought it would make for a sweet experiment for the radio show, and by the end of the month, he and his girlfriend Liza Stark found that emojis were actually improved their connection.
Emojis were more useful than words when it came to expressing affection and loving feelings, but made logistics, like where and when to meet up, much tougher to organize. Before starting the project, they downloaded as many emojis and stickers as they could find, relying most heavily on WeChat, a Chinese texting service. Alex and Liza each assigned themselves an icon to represent themselves — for him, a guy wearing a cap, and for her, a girl with brown hair. From there, it was all a game of trial and error. Explaining through emojis who would do the grocery shopping for the week or whether a flight was delayed was complicated, especially in the beginning. As the experiment wore on, the two had to collaborate to create their own set of visual meanings that only they understood, and it brought them closer than ever. They discovered that giving each icon a literal meaning and adding them together to create words, as if they were Chinese characters, was the easiest way to connect.
They also found that receiving emotional emojis can be more touching than being told “I love you” with plain old words. “It felt fuller than if you had sent something. Somebody telling you that they love you is a great and beautiful and wonderful thing, but getting those stickers, getting those emojis, was a different experience,” Liza told New Tech City. It was especially complicated for the pair to communicate heavier emotions with only cutesy cartoons as a medium. Words, they said, would’ve been much more useful when trying to express something negative. When the experiment ended, Alex was disappointed when words first started appearing in their text messages again. The couple couldn’t help but keep using emojis as a major part of their digital vocabulary because they liked them so much. Exploring a new form of language together after throwing around words for so long is the ultimate opportunity to really think about what you want to convey to the person you love. Does this mean the English language isn’t all that important after all? I wouldn’t go that far, but it’s a pretty big game changer to see how sustainable a more visual language can be. I kind of wish emoji would become something of a universal communicator for moments when people don’t have a spoken language in common. Wouldn’t you love to see airports signs with those little cartoons on them?
You can hear Alex and Liza’s fascinating discussion about the experience on New Tech City here: