Tanima Dey‘s essay: Emotions on Display: Feelings not Found!

When I first let myself be intrigued by the comparatively new method of studying history, history of emotions had sailed through many trajectories, for almost two decades, taking into its boat psychoanalysts, sociologists, linguists, scientists, neurologists, and historians for the new journey ahead. I was already a decade late in fathoming the incredible and fantastic world of emotions orchestrating the course of human history which till date remains an under-researched area. it was/is increasingly understood by the scholars that there were implicit references in the works of the classical historians that emotions are needed to be observed to understand the nature of a society. The issue which I would like to discuss in the present article is the media through which emotions are expressed in the present world which denies the importance of communicating emotions in person as technology conveys the same, very conveniently. Apart from art, cinema, literature, performative media, emoticons are the new ways of putting across the different concoctions of feelings for the technology-fed, smart-phone-brainer Y generation. The emoticons not only assure that you save time and words, but it is also easy when you do not want to think at all but are compelled to reply whose social affiliations are important to you. 

On the onset, let me point out the difference between emoticons and emojis, the former being a facial representation by the help of simple punctuation, for e.g., :-), 😀 etc. and the latter are proper pictures or images representing the emotions, for e.g., 🙂, 😦  etc. I belong to an age which obsessively tries to be at the centre of everybody’s attention and appreciation, through orchestrating an image which does not always, almost never tallies with the real one and an age where being an introvert is either treated as an abnormality or a luxury.1 

The Emotional-Mechanics of the Y generation

The words which correspond to the emojis are approximately six- like, love, wow (admiration), sad, angry, h aha (laughable), these come when you react to a post or a picture or some news-feed either composed or shared by your friends or anyone whose page you have access to. Apart from these six major emojis, there are other more expressive and elaborate ones, some are also represented through non-living things, animals, or just everyday usable things (like cars, football, hammer, nails, a shirt, a piano and as conventional as it can be). In other cases, where you compose a status and like to attach a special feeling to it, there are ready emojis and corresponding emotions and you can also state your own feeling and correspond it to the emojis from the list provided. The emojis which have now conveniently substituted a conversation made of actual words, does not always induce a bodily gesture. In most cases one does not actually laugh, cry, turns red in anger or blush in embarrassment while choosing the corresponding emoji. On the other side, the receiver of the emotion, represented by the emoji, also stay unmoved. This is in contrast with the actual conversation we are used to having in real life where the giver and receiver of emotions usually exchange emotions represented by actual facial expressions and bodily gestures. The emojis have therefore created a mechanical exchange of emotions between people.

Lack of Emotional Nuances: Mourning over the Loss of Vocabulary 

The emotional representations have also been substituted with ready-made reactions. In cases where you are not sure of the complex emotions that you are experiencing, you just can go for the array of emotional representations, in pictorial forms spread in front of you to save your time and effort. We refuse to give ourselves the time to brew the real emotions in ourselves and instead choose just an emoji or image or a GIF (Graphic Interchange Format or animated images) in place of writing a few words which would have represented the emotions in a more nuanced way. We are not always particularly angry by a certain news or a post on social media, we may feel disgusted, annoyed, irritated, and perhaps extremely enraged but these are not the synonyms for ‘angry’. Likewise, you may be awed by a certain post or picture being posted by a friend, but the ‘wow’ button doesn’t really justify your real emotional experience. You might have great admiration, appreciation for another post or picture posted by your friend but choosing the ‘love’ button may be an over-reaction. But to not perhaps deal with our real emotions we choose an emoji which is perhaps less hitting but at the cost of being inaccurate. The reactions are often not even countered or asked for justification by whom a certain post has been given, because in most of the cases we are just counting the number of reactions we have earned. 

With the losing of nuances and each word denoting a special emotion being replaced by a near-accurate one, language itself is on the verge of being replaced by emojis and pictures and GIFs. Words which were invented to be able to express and interact in a better way, the words of our ancestors being the source of information about our pasts, are now being increasingly replaced by emojis or pictures which are often not accurately representative. Rock-arts, paintings, photographs, and any visual medium are significant sources for the study of our pasts. But if the history of today’s generation must be recorded, the inaccurate emotions are not going to help in deciphering our time. If we are to only rely upon images, emojis and pictorial representations to denote our emotions, then it should at least be diverse and not be limited to few standard representations. And most importantly, if we try to indulge in more in-person reactions rather than posting a random button on the social media, the words may still be alive, and it will have the power to effect lives in better ways. Emotions which are meant to give meaning to our lives, relations and most importantly, interactions, should continue to play the role rather than being a tool to aggrandise the increasing muteness of our society which relies on convenience rather than depth of human emotions. 


1 This ideation of and use of the word Luxury in connection to social media has been borrowed from a quote which was recently “trending” on Facebook itself, which read “Offline is the new Luxury”. 

Tanima is a history doctorate, currently social science teacher in school in NCR. Her broad area of interest includes regional identity, the cultural contexts of vernacularisation and socio-cultural diversities in the making of language-based identities. She lives to eat, reads to survive and occasionally writes to keep her sanity.

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