Excursions by Amit Gawande

The Trouble with Emoji

Written languages based on alphabets are one of the great human accomplishments. (…) when I write the word human” you can fill in what you imagine a human to look like. The word itself carries some fundamental attributes of being a human but the rest is intentionally underspecified. This allows us to use a single word that applies independent of gender, nationality, race, clothing, etc. That is the power of language based on alphabets, because the letters themselves carry no meaning. Even the meaning of a word can evolve over time. For example, the word couple” at one point might have meant a male-female couple but is now used to describe any two people who are paired.

A thoughtful essay, but I completely disagree. There is an innate assumption here that everyone can read and write English alphabet. It is, in reality, not the case. There are tons of alphabets across nations and regions. In India itself, there are 11 alphabets. My mom can fluently read and write Devanagari, but that is not the case with English alphabets.

Emoji cross the confines of regions - primarily because it is visual. Is it perfect? Of course, not — we have managed to mess up the standards in implementation across platforms.

However, at least, I can send my mom a smile” emoji without spelling it out in Devanagari. It was the first thing that lent her confidence to start using smartphones, way before Devanagari support was even introduced.