Apple today announced the digital equivalent of a singing telegram, a perversion of the emoji concept that embodies the worst of both the company’s exclusionary philosophy and the worst of CG animals and excreta. Animoji are dumb and I loathe them. Here’s why.
1. Emoji meaning comes from context, not expression
Why have emoji become the lingua franca, nay even the interlingua, of the digital messaging world? It’s not because they’re so incredibly emotive. In fact, the clip art illustration style is almost aggressively bland. But it is that very blandness that gave them the power of versatility.
The ?♀️ lady is meant to be someone sitting at an information desk. But her empty stare and flippant gesture could just as easily mean a hundred other things, from offering something to shrugging to asking “well?!” It’s up to the users to create the context to infuse emoji with meaning. Even specific faces and emotions depend heavily on how they’re used.
An 3D fox face making a grimace is just a 3D fox face making a grimace. There’s no subtext (except maybe Bradley Cooper), no creation, no interpretation. Just a fancy mask.
2. Emoji standards give us a shared visual language, animoji don’t
But this only works when we’re all seeing the same thing. Apple doesn’t seem to care about that. Remember when they tried to kill the ? and turn it into like a weird pink coconut? I haven’t forgotten.
It’s only when we know exactly what the person on the other end will see that we can successfully give these symbols the meaning we intend. This is an imperfect situation, since cross-platform emoji can create problems, but because the Apple-adopted set has become the de facto standard, it’s often at least an option to use them. This creates a powerful and broad shared lexicon that behaves predictably on most platforms.
Animoji don’t exist within that platform, but they ape it in order to leech legitimacy from it. But make no mistake, these aren’t emjoi. It’s an Apple product and they do not intend to share it. This wonderful advance will be locked into iMessage forever.
3. It’s a toy for the moneyed elite
Any time you see an animoji, picture a little $1,000 price tag hanging off the side, swaying realistically. Because no one but the four-figure club gets to use them.
As usual in consumer electronics, the most futuristic technologies are being deployed for the most frivolous purposes. And the people willing to shell out such fantastic sums in order to access such trivial toys will be eager to display them.
Remember this when you get the inevitable 150-megabyte update to Messages, and hold that anger inside you like a burning coal.
4. They look like turn of the century bad CG
Did anyone really like Antz? And is it weird to say “turn of the century” for the late ’90s and early 2000s? Is it weird that the target demographic for this feature wasn’t even born when Antz came out?
5. I hate fun
It’s unacceptable that Apple or anyone else creates a form of expression that’s at odds with my calcified ideas of how people should communicate. Technology is serious business and this lighthearted application of facial recognition tech has no place in it.
As you might guess at this point, I’m only half serious here. I think new forms of digital expression are interesting and laudable — I’m a big fan of Snapchat’s experimentation with the medium and wish others would take risks like it has.
But I also think emoji derive their greatest value from the reasons set forth in 1 and 2, and that Apple’s has been working not to expand expression but to solidify its hold on its users in the face of other free, reliable, secure messaging apps. The company’s philosophy is not one of openness, and I oppose that wherever I see it. (I also oppose Antz wherever I see it.)
Emoji are by and for everyone — that’s why everyone uses them. If some emoji (or emoji-likes) are only for some people, then in my opinion that’s the wrong way to go.