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I’m Begging You, Let’s Come to a Consensus on the Thumbs Up Emoji

A year in isolation has ripped a hole in the fabric of text communication. 👎

Screenshot, iPhone

I feel superstitious writing this, but today, in April 2021, we are, it seems, at long last, on sure footing and well on our way toward coming out on the other side of the COVID pandemic. Forty percent of eligible adults in the United States are now vaccinated and over 693 million doses have been administered across the globe. We have problems ahead, and problems now, there’s no avoiding that. But for the first time in a year, there’s a suspicious feeling of hope in the air.

There’s also anxiety. Instead of articles about how to stay fit and bake sourdough inside, we’re now seeing article after article about how to exist in the world again. It’s an anxiety I share, though it’s also one I’m welcoming with open, vaccinated (okay halfway vaccinated) arms. I’m positively thrilled to cope! And I’ve already been coping with acute social anxiety for the last year, anyway. Not about navigating socially distanced hangs or proper etiquette on the hiking trail (though yes, that too), but about something that exists completely outside of COVID protocol: texting. In short, I’ve become aware that I simply don’t know how to text anymore. And to be honest, I’m not sure anyone else does either.

Yes, we all still text all the time, perhaps more than ever. But a year of trying to sustain or bolster certain relationships via text has changed the game for how it functions in our social lives. I send far more extremely lengthy messages than I used to, sometimes many in a row. My group chains are fully all over the place—silent for a week and then nonstop for an entire day. Other group chains have continued on over the course of the year with a steady drip, but have zeroed in on a particular topic or shtick. Some days, I look back at my messages I never replied to and realize I don’t even remember reading them. This year has put incredible strain on every type of relationship and our ability to communicate, and texting is no exception. It’s been really hard! Shouldn’t we have gotten better at this during a year of isolation, not worse? Maybe some of you have, or maybe your texting lives haven’t changed much at all. For me though, it’s another painful and present manifestation of my broken, pandemic brain

We might bounce back “when this is all over” and when we have more IRL interactions to bring order back to the universe, but 13-ish months in, I’m starting to fear that my texting muscles might have permanently atrophied. And in times like these, when words fail us, I would love to think I could fall back on our post-verbal, post-textual friend the emoticon/emoji, but frankly, those little guys have proven to be the text feature that’s become most flummoxing to me during the pandemic. 

Before I proceed, let me just say, I am aware that the emoji is not some new or alien device. I know it’s not 2010. I’m not a boomer (though to be completely honest, I do sometimes use 😂) or a luddite.  Still, in a year when we’ve all been so disjointed emotionally, mentally, and communicatively I think we as a society must circle back and figure out what the hell we’re all doing here. It’s lawless out there in textland and the anarchy has started to overwhelm me. 

It’s also worth saying that these issues just come with the territory of texting. It’s why many people hate it in the first place. Even as someone who has been texting all of my adult life, I find it agonizing to navigate text relationships. From the very beginning, establishing a tone is difficult, reading the other person is difficult, understanding cadence and functionality within the relationship is difficult. When you throw group texts, reactions, gifs, drawings, memojis and more into the mix, it can feel like communicating in a different brainspace entirely. 

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Still, I yearn for order. For some sense of rules and commonly accepted societal norms. I need to know that we all generally agree on some things. And so today I come to you readers with questions.  Some general, and some very specific.

When it comes to specifics, I desperately want to talk about our old pal and greatest enemy, the thumbs up. 👍

This immediately splinters into two topics: the emoji itself and the emoji reaction (displayed in the image above). When I first brought this topic up to my fellow Discourse Bloggers, a few general themes emerged on the emoji. I’m not attributing these quotes to protect the identity of my colleagues on this highly sensitive subject: 

“thumbs up emoji is the ‘k’ of the emoji”
“it’s fine if it’s like, a confirmation of a detail in a plan or a reaction to ‘thanks’ or something”
“I only use it when a conversation is ending”
“it’s like ‘yes, i have my marching orders’”
“it’s strictly logistical to me”
“i only ever use this to confirm i got a message or whatever”
“any other use is ‘psycho’ or ‘sicko’”
“it’s different if it’s a bit”

We disagreed on whether it was good or bad in general, and exactly how it should be deployed. Several in our cohort agreed that it’s vastly improved if you use several in a row. 

Here’s what what some of us had to say regarding the reaction emoji:

“the only time those are acceptable are as like, a confirmation that you’ve seen something”
“all reactions that aren’t heart are heinous”
“crime against humanity”
“i don’t like being told i don’t merit more than a single button press”

Now look, I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t find myself struggling with this issue within my own text relationships. And I understand all too well that emojis are open to interpretation and can become their own inside jokes. But to lay my cards out on the table and bear my ❤️ with all of you, the thumbs up in all its forms is absolutely killing me. The mere sight of that little integer feels like Little Jack Horner sat in the corner and stuck his thumb into my heart. Have I lost it? Is this a symptom of the pandemic and a sign that I know longer understand how to read technological social cues? Help me.

I can’t believe I wrote this many words about emojis. Please weigh in below and let’s work through this nightmare together. And please don’t feel limited to the thumbs up!! If you have an emoji or texting gripe, now is the time to air those grievances. (I know another Discourse Blog staffer has a spicy—and correct—emoji take, and who knows, maybe they’ll voice it here!) Either way, we’ll get through this together. ✌