Little did Shigetaka Kurita in 1999 realise that he would be the creator of the fastest growing language of the world. As a visual language, emojis have far eclipsed the Egyptian hieroglyphics. From electronic communication to marketing campaigns. Emojis have entered every phase of life. Though originally most popular amongst teenagers, this has entered the field of academic and business communication. So much so that the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year is a pictograph officially called the ‘Face with Tears of Joy’ emoji.
It has always been very difficult to express feelings succinctly in words and evoke interest. The emoji has enabled people to communicate feelings without exploring the need for the correct word. It is quick, ubiquitous and expressive. Currently there are more than 1851 emoji characters and counting. It is a standardised set of characters that is available on iOS, Android, Windows and OS X platforms. While the artwork for each emoji character varies by platform, the meaning of each symbol remains the same. Emojis continue to grow all the time. The recent iOS 10.0.1 included over 70 new emojis. In iOS 10, Apple has made it even easier to use emojis with an all-new replacement and predictive system that replaces key words and phrases with relevant emoji characters. Although a full-featured search functionality is still not available, the new emoji replacement ability turns text messages into emoji-filled communications that are fun alternatives to basic blocks of text.
The increased use of emojis comes from the fact that the attention span of the average adult is no more than a couple of minutes. A study from Microsoft discovered people lose concentration after only eight seconds—that’s one second faster than a goldfish. The human brain is wired to understand images; we process visual information 60,000 times faster than text. Thus, visual communication is more easily registered.
Such a new and exciting mode of communication is increasingly being adopted in healthcare communication. It may especially be useful in communicating ever changing emotional status of people and to notify health status. Whether these emojis actually help communication is very hotly debated.
The ones which are commonly used with a universally understood meaning are useful. Though they help to reduce ambiguity, there is always the risk of misunderstanding. Emojis are better when they are used with written messages. Emoji only texts have their own problems, when the interpreted meaning maybe completely different from the intended meaning. There is also a restriction in expression of subtle nuances or strengths of emotion that we experience. Age, gender, ethnicity and cultural difference may also hinder communication.
Usually healthcare professionals are accused of being late adopters to any new technology. There is a reason for this. Healthcare professionals are not paid to be hip or cool. Unless something new is robust and time tested, it is difficult to adopt, as there is always a risk of failure and the results may be catastrophic. In medical practice, communication is key and every effort needs to be made for better two-way communication with clients. Emojis have taken communication to the next level. But this needs to be used with caution to avoid misunderstandings. However, there is some place where things can be started. Clients and providers may decide to communicate with pre-decided emojs. Though this kind of communication will not be detailed, it may point in the right direction by alerting providers whether there is or no need for intervention.