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Today The New York Times asks trolls a curious question: Should Grown Men Use Emoji? The article appears in the Times’ new Men’s Style section alongside other male-centric stories about “coming out as gray” and how to scrub your body “like a man.” But this emoji story feels a little different:
Given their resemblance to the stickers that adorn the notebooks of schoolgirls, not to mention their widespread adoption as the lingua franca of tweens and teens everywhere, some people wonder whether grown men should be using them at all.
Start with the headline: “Should Grown Men…” The implication that men may intrinsically be above a given behavior or common practice while women may not is ridiculous. What would this story look like from the opposing perspective? Should grown women know how to change a flat tire? Should grown women fill out a March Madness bracket? Should grown women drink beer out of a can? Toward the end of the piece, the author addresses the larger idea of such “absurd pronouncements,” though no definitive conclusion is reached.
While some emoji are more effeminate than others (heart eyes, heart cat eyes, kissing cat, painting nails, bikini) the very act of texting was derided as youthful and pointless when it became popular at the turn of the millennium. Why punch out clipped, grammatically-incorrect messages when a phone call is more efficient? The same stigma was once applied to Twitter, and is currently attached to Snapchat. (Nevermind that this time two years ago, Wall Street bankers—society’s vision of alpha males—were obsessed with Snapchat).
I barely use emoji, but most of my friends use it every day, multiple times per day. One friend, who is 29, says he uses emoji during 50 percent of his daily communication with his wife, who is 30. My friend and mentor, longtime Esquire writer Mike Sager, is 58 years old and uses emoji at the end of almost every single text conversation (applause, fist bump, thumbs up, wink, shocked face, heart). “Plus flowers I sometimes send to gf,” he just told me, via text. We were texting last night about his son, who is currently nailing down his various plans for the coming summer, none of which involve living at home with his dad. “Its my little guys turn,” Sager texted, ending with the happy tears emoji.
Maybe a better question would be “Under what circumstances should a grown person use emoji?” But again, who cares? Should you send a smiling shit to your boss? Probably not. But should you laugh if he or she sends one to you? Yes. Should you send emoji to your father-in-law? Depends on how digitally savvy he is, and what sort of relationship the two of you have.
Still: Does the use of one or more poorly-animated expressions have the ability to truly shape your life? Moreover, would a “grown man” ever let it?