I Did An 'Emoji Fast' & It Changed The Way I Communicate

Photo: Tommaso Tuzj

We go on gut health resets and KonMari-style interior cleanses to help optimize both our bodies and our minds, but how do we detox our digital dialogue? For me, that involves rebooting and refining my communication skills without the crutches of digital discourse—meaning: going on an emoji fast.

Emoji are the sugar bombs of daily conversation. They're the equivalent of an easy-to-grab, shortcut food that has little to no nutritious value but hits the salty, sweet, and savory flavor receptors. When I start feeling unclear in my relationships and/or if things are being miscommunicated, I've started forgoing emoji all together in favor of words and expression. It's remarkable how much we rely on these little images to stand in for our voices and how they can obscure real connection.

I knew it was bad when I caught myself in real-life conversations, in moments when I was wishing for a way to add emoji to my actual in-person dialogue, as if I couldn't fully convey myself with words, facial expressions, tone of voice, and gestures. Here I was having an old-fashioned interaction with a living human being and I felt the absence of an iPhone emoji.

And it wasn't just me. My fitness-focused, kale-eating friends weren't immune, either. Over turmeric lattes, my friend Jessie divulged that she started acting out an emoji to her boyfriend (specifically, the face with hearts for eyes) to let him know she dug what he was saying. And he looked at her like she was having a stroke—slightly alarmed and confused. Not her desired outcome.

We're busy. Believe me, I get it. We are expected to answer email, comments, text messages, tweets, and DMs with shocking immediacy. These adorable little illustrations of avocados and monkeys are a quick substitute for words, phrases, and concepts. They're handy when you're short on time and need to respond quickly. They're helpful to embellish or emphasize or to heap praise. Then there's my least favorite use, the passive-aggressive shortcut: Write something harsh but add a smiley face to soften the tone. Instead of relying on this library of cartoonish imagery to speak for us, can we choose our words carefully and thoughtfully?

It helped me remember that my words matter, and choosing them carefully is worthwhile.

That's when I decided to go cold turkey. Like an elimination diet can reset your relationship to food, I wanted to check in and find out just how reliant I had become on these images. I went seven days with not so much as a wink. Removing the crutch of imagery meant I had to slow down. It took me longer to communicate, but my communications were more in depth. In order to convey my intended meaning, I used words that aren't in my usual rotation, tapping into deeper layers of my vocabulary. I also learned that text isn't always the best form of communication for some conversations. We are so used to populating our interactions with images of hearts, applause, and burritos that, without them, you can inadvertently sound pretty grouchy. Sometimes I panicked and notified people that I was on an emoji fast, concerned my communications were coming across as cold, flat, or angry. "I'm not a bitch. I'm just on an emoji fast."

This was hard, but ultimately the tidying up was worthwhile. When the fast was over, I didn't dive right back into splurging on emoji doughnuts and speedboats. I was much more aware of how often the impulse struck me and choose my moments rather than mindlessly defaulting to little pictures. It helped me remember that my words matter, and choosing them carefully is worthwhile.

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