What did you say?

CE NewspaperA New York Times article on Sunday about the use of emoji (the increasing number of smiley face options for texts and social media) discussed differences in the ways people use those symbols in different societies. A Facebook project manager, for example “traveled to India and Japan to better understand the differences.” After his travels, he is quoted as saying.

“We discovered that in the Asian culture, the expression on an emoji face isn’t necessarily what conveys emotion. It’s the context of where that face is located,” Mr. Marra said.

So, how does a person studying cultural differences conflate India and Japan, as if “Asian culture” is a unified whole? But, of course, he would be open to the same critique if he suggested that all of Japan or India maintain one application of emoji.

One part of the process of establishing that fabled uniformity, though, comes out in the article’s opening anecdote where a tech savvy young adult failed to use emoji proficiently. His new romantic interest interpreted his limited use of emoji as a lack of interest in her. The author of the article eventually intervened to give his friend a primer in the use of emoji.

Thus, we have a clear example of socialization into the proper expression of emotion through emoji. Thus, generalizations about a particular group of people (perhaps defined by ethnicity, nationality, gender, age cohort, etc.) not only establish an expectation of standardized usage within a group but also reflect the social pressure (the romantic interest expressing disappointment in his use of emoji) and the socialization (crash course from a friend on proper use of emoji) that generate a standardized application within a particular group.

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