Emoji Doesn’t Complement Language, It Limits Meaning

emojiEmoji – the use of pictorial characters such as smiley faces to replace words – is emerging as a powerful replacement of written language. As of 2015, there are now over 800 emoji characters that have been developed by the Unicode Consortium, a software industry body whose 10 full members include Google, Yahoo, Apple, and Microsoft. In the UK, 62% of respondents to research undertaken by the University of Bangor and TalkTalk Mobile, claimed they were using emoji now more than a year ago. 40% have sent messages composed entirely of emoji. 72% of the younger generation (18-25) say they find it easier to express themselves in emoji, with 51% believing emoji has improved our ability to interact.

BBC Radio 1’s Newsbeat webpage now carries news stories every Friday written in emoji. Earlier this year, the Australian foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop gave Buzzfeed the world’s first political interview entirely in emoji, which, needless to say, said nothing of substance. Tennis ace Andy Murray helped popularise the new communication by tweeting about his wedding entirely in emoji, whilst a music video by Beyonce also used it. Those who complained that emoji isn’t PC enough were pleased when software developed to allow you to alter skin tones and new ‘gay’ emoticons came out. The rapid evolution of emoji is being talked up – we are told it is accomplishing in a few years something that took the hieroglyphics of Ancient Egypt centuries.

Some might view critics of emoji as stick-in-the-mud fuddy duddies. According to this view, emoji is just another craze like the latest tune by Crazy Frog. This view would hold that emoji may be philistine, but not worth getting worked up about. But this doesn’t look to me like a youth fad that people will grow out of. It is a new trend that will embrace ever-increasing numbers. Nor is it the kind of change that adds something to our culture – rather it is destructive of our precious language.

Bangor’s Professor Vyvyan Evans isn’t worried about the new trend, arguing that emoji complements language rather than replaces it. She observes that complex meanings and political subtleties are impoverished if one tries to express them in emoji which only has 800 or so characters and no grammar. Indeed it would be impossible for emoji to replace the spoken tongue. However, what she doesn’t grasp is that meaningful discourse in a rich language such as English is already becoming outdated. One only has to compare the political speeches of today to those of yesteryear to see this. Now expressive and presumptive of a bland consensus, the PR driven political speeches of today pay lots of attention to rhythym and gesticulation, but very little to actual meaningful content. This simplification in the realm of ideas, which the youth aren’t yet challenging, means that emoji becomes a very appropriate way of expressing yourself when you have little to say. So emoji can’t replace language, but neither is it complementary to it. Rather the rise and rise of emoji is a symptom of the removal of vitality, vigour, and meaning from the public sphere.

Something similar happened in George Orwell’s 1984. Under the Party’s “Newspeak”, language was completely modified. Words that conveyed undesirable meanings were deleted. The Party’s intention was not only that language became fitting for the totalitarian society of Oceania, but also that alternative modes of thought became impossible. The shrinking of language was also designed to shrink the human brain. For example, instead of many synonyms and antonyms for the word ‘good’, all conveying something slightly different, there was only this base word. There was no word for ‘bad’ – you had to say ‘ungood’. Something ‘better’ became ‘plusgood’, and the best thing was ‘doubleplusgood’, with the worst thing being ‘doubleplusungood’. This is like emoji where positivity and negativity are conveyed through happy or sad faces, maybe with a ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down’. So only yah-boo thinking becomes possible, reducing our role in society to that of an audience. Although the consequences of fictional Newspeak and real emoji are similar, the cause is different. In today’s world there is no deliberate conspiracy coming from the top of society, rather emoji has emerged as the public, particularly the youth, vacates the public realm of debate, consequent upon the discrediting of political ideologies.

An example of how emoji has emerged on the back of a decaying language that the youth can’t make sense of, is with the concept of ‘freedom’. Orwell knew it was vital for the Party to destroy this concept, so in 1984, one could only use the word ‘free’ in the sense of “the dog is free from lice” or “the field is free from weeds”. Never could ‘free’ have anything to do with free choice, or free will, those concepts had been obliterated. Likewise in our society, with the 2007 smoking bans, the compound word ‘smokefree’ was devised to express the new reality. People became free from smoke, but not free to smoke. Whatever one thinks of these smoking bans, surely it is awkward to argue the situation post-ban is more free unless one inverts the meaning of the term, but that’s precisely what happened. Now in the epoch of emoji, there is no symbol for freedom. One can use the CND logo, or maybe a clenched fist. But even if a symbol was devised, how could it compete with a written treatise on the subject comparable to John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty”, for example?

Another way the Party destroys traditional language is through the destruction of literature. The character Syme, who is working on the Newspeak dictionary, says, “By 2050 – earlier, probably – all real knowledge of Oldspeak will have disappeared. The whole literature of the past will have been destroyed. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Byron – they’ll exist only in Newspeak versions, not merely changed into something different, but actually contradictory of what they used to be”. Today, emoji is beginning to accomplish something similar. This Summer, Penguin released new emoji versions of Romeo & Juliet (YOLO Juliet), Macbeth (Macbeth #killingit), and Hamlet (srsly Hamlet), with A Midsummer Night’s Dream (A Midsummer Night #nofilter) arriving in January. Shakespeare’s language has all been changed into contemporary text-speak with emoji characters in every sentence. Meanings that explored the complexity of human relationships have been eradicated. Nevertheless there has been a big marketing push with one store devoting a whole stand to the new ‘OMG Shakespeare’. Some commentators have hailed the move, patronisingly saying it makes Shakespeare more accessible to the youth. Other academics are outraged.

To conclude, emoji should not be celebrated, but seen as a very limited form of communication.



Parenting Classes Erode Parental Autonomy And Don’t Save You From Arrest

David Cameron has lots of advice
David Cameron has lots of advice
Society should be curious as to why ‘parenting classes’ are now so vociferously promoted. After all, parents have been raising kids successfully for thousands of years – why, all of a sudden, are classes now required?

Some parents may welcome the classes as useful advice given that parenting is now a minefield. But the view of parenting as a minefield is actually a recent phenomenon, and it is a natural consequence of the state stripping away parental autonomy. For example, you are seen as bad if you do the following things:

  • discipline your child through smacking
  • allow your older children to try alcohol in small doses such as a small glass of diluted wine with a Sunday roast
  • let your kids go to school on their own
  • let your kids play unsupervised
  • ever leave them on their own, even if you think they’re old enough to cope for a small while
  • fail to instil parental controls on the internet or let your children watch programmes or films or play video games that are deemed ‘unsuitable’ for their age category

In the past, when society was more liberal, there was no unofficial code of conduct over these examples – it was left to parents to decide how to navigate these examples. There was no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ way, it was up to you. And all of the above examples were commonplace. But now the moralisation of parenting means that parents, denied autonomy, are incredibly confused about what’s allowed. It is not just parents who are confused about what’s allowed but also the police themselves. In England and Wales, they arrest an average of one parent per day for leaving a child at home alone, including the case of a mother who left her 14 year old daughter at home for 10 minutes whilst she nipped to the corner shop. By contrast, David and Samantha Cameron were not arrested when they left 8-year old daughter Nancy in a pub. Thus amidst all this confusion, parents may be tempted to try the classes for guidance in this land of mystery.

Tragically the classes only compound the problem because parenting is not an exact science, contrary to what the state implies. Parenting classes, i.e. parenting parents, only ends up further eroding autonomy. One comes out of there none the wiser, but probably worse off since natural confidence has been further squished.

Even if one doesn’t welcome the classes, if one has courage in one’s own abilities, then they still might be thrust upon you. Prime Minister David Cameron honestly believes, “the quality of parenting is the single-most important determinant of the life chances of a child”. Thus to improve people’s life chances, he has to make everyone ‘perfect parents’ even though there is no science here or indeed any academic agreement on what this means. Nevertheless Cameron targets the classes at “problem families” or “troubled families”, of which he reckons there are 46,000 in the UK. He rarely spells out who he means, but the implication is clear enough – he means the lower orders, people on lower incomes. For example, parenting classes are advertised in Job Centres, places the middle class never have to go to. “Troubled families” is just a PC way of indicating what Cameron really means: ‘chav scum’.

But ‘good’ and ‘bad’ parents are not black and white issues when held up to any scrutiny. A welfare-dependent single mother may be better in some ways than career-driven parents because they spend more time with their child. There really is no easy answer. Given there’s no scientific basis for good parenting, it’s probably better if the state backed away from teaching it as a skill. Yet I suspect they won’t do that because it’s in their nature to interfere. For all of Cameron’s repeating that this isn’t “nanny statism” (he says it time and again in various newspaper quotations), it does look to me like unwarranted intrusion.

North of the border, things are even worse than parenting classes. The SNP wants state guardians to be appointed for all children aged 0-18. These ‘named persons’ will monitor the upbringing of the next generation, making parents feel constantly on edge and warping young minds into strange views of what is normal.

For this ‘support’, no thanks.

‘Public Health’ Tyrants Are Taking Over The Asylum

Credit: “Addiction” by Danilin, FreeDigitalPhotos.net

An unholy alliance of quangos with an authoritarian agenda, are riding roughshod over the will of patients, doctors and nurses in demanding a total ban on smoking in psychiatric hospitals.

As of June 2015, 9% of psychiatric hospitals have banned smoking both inside and outside.  83% of units only permit smoking outside.  63% prohibit e-cigarettes.  Public Health England (PHE), sponsored by the Department of Health, and with the backing of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), are pressing for 100% ban, inside and outside.

PHE believes the lower life expectancy of all smokers is a “health inequality” to tackle.  PHE hates anyone smoking, but with mental health in-patients, they have discovered some easy targets.  These people are atomised, captive, and distressed, often lacking the ability and means to rebel.  In ‘Smoking Cessation in Secure Mental Health Settings: Guidance for Commissioners’, PHE menacingly says “admission to a secure mental health unit can be an opportunity to intervene” (p.4) and re-informs staff how to do their jobs properly, including that they stop smoking themselves (p.22-23).

There are many reasons to oppose the ban.  It deters smokers from seeking voluntary assessment if they are developing mental illness since treatment appears unbearable.  Secondly, smoking is a comfort for troubled people who are at their most distressed and vulnerable.  Taking this freedom away is cruel.  Thirdly, a ban creates conflict between patient and staff at a time when the patient urgently needs to somehow trust those who are detaining them.  Without that trust, the chances of recovery are severely impaired.  Fourthly an asylum is a place to get mentally well, they shouldn’t promote physical fitness over and above that goal.  Fifthly a ban is horribly illiberal because the ward becomes one’s living quarters – it’s like saying you can’t smoke in your own home.  For more on these common-sense objections, see my article here.

Some say that smoking harms other non-smoking patients.  But this isn’t true in a hospital if smoking was only permitted in a designated room, or outside – non-smokers are already protected.  Furthermore, the potential for violence if a nurse confiscates a patient’s cigarettes could undermine the harmony and smooth running of a good psychiatric clinic, freaking out observing non-smokers as well.  Smoking bans represent turmoil for all patients and staff.

PHE’s intervention has not yet been widely discussed in society as the ban is bypassing Parliamentary debate.  Sadly when it was reported by BBC News, they misleadingly said that smoking reduces the effectiveness of mental health medication by up to 50%.  Rightly we don’t permit the use of illegal drugs or alcohol in asylums because they certainly do interfere with good medicine.  Policies like bag searches, room searches, monitoring and surveillance, even breathalysing, take place in clinics to enforce this.  If tobacco did interfere with medication, it would be a strong argument for restriction.  But it’s a bluff.

The source of the BBC’s claim was a PHE quotation that said, “doses of affected drugs can be lowered, sometimes by as much as 50%” if a patient ceases smoking (p.10).  This was based on evidence from the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP, 5.4.4).  But nowhere it suggests that psychotropic drugs are ineffective in smokers.  Anti-psychotics are just as effective in smokers as in non-smokers, it is just that sometimes the frequency of dosage has to be increased as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in tobacco (not the nicotine) increase the rate at which the medicine is metabolised by the body.

PHE think increased frequency of dosage is a problem because they state it costs £40m extra per year when they want to make savings.  But this bean-counting approach is irrational because the NHS mental health budget is £32bn per year – saving only £40m won’t lead to a new golden age of wealth in the system.  Furthermore, as the RCP report says (8.5), the real world financial saving may only be £12m if generic anti-psychotics are deployed.

Also e-cigarettes don’t contain PAHs (an organic compound) yet are also viewed negatively, suggesting the objection to smoking is moralistic rather than scientific.

Two thirds of in-patients smoke, up to 88% for psychosis sufferers, because tobacco is a form of self-medication.  Schizophrenics suffer extreme cognitive impairment around abilities such as learning, memory, and attention.  Tobacco helps these areas in sufferers.

Similarly with depression, cigarette smoking mimics effects of antidepressant drugs.  Whilst tobacco is not a medium or long-term solution, all smokers will attest that smoking reduces anger and stress in the immediate short-term.  As the majority of mental health patients are only staying in hospital briefly, smoking is helpful.  If you are treating someone for depression or anxiety, the one thing that’s guaranteed to make them more depressed or anxious is to take away their cigarettes!  Advice is one thing, but a blanket ban is quite another.

Smoking is not just chemical relief, but helps build up a trusting relationship with staff who obtain your tobacco for good behaviour.  Smashing this apart is not good clinical practice.  PHE believe that smoking breaks could be replaced with other “healthy therapeutic activities” that can repair the breakdown in trust they have caused.  Simon Bristow, Islington’s ‘Smoking Cessation Chief’ said, “We are increasing activities like dance to fill the void”.  Maybe all patients should sing “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands”.

PHE bizarrely claim their policy promotes choice because patients would like to quit smoking at the same rate as wider society.  Certainly if the individual wants help to quit, all available support should be given.  But a blanket ban will also target those who don’t want to give up.  It’s not choice then, it’s coercion.  ‘Empowering the patient’ really means ‘all power to PHE’.

PHE says, “There is a need to see health and not mental health…as a key institutional goal” (p.10), twisting the service into promoting morally virtuous lifestyles rather than treating specific illnesses. This represents the colonisation of what should be a kind-hearted service by bumbling busybodies preaching moral scripture over respecting autonomy and staff’s frontline experience.