So my mother calls me from her landline. My mater and I rarely communicate by mobile – largely because her handset is a Nokia 1300, once used by the Nazis in World War II. There are only two left in the world. She possesses one, the other is exhibited in the Berlin War Museum.
'Rahul what's a moji?", she asks, curious.
"Uh, mum, that's a female sock," I answer, attempting juvenile humour. "Don't be over-smart," she says firmly, "Moji. It's an English word."
"Uhm…. Japanese actually. And it's 'emoji' not 'moji'... And it's a sort of… uhm… how do I explain this to you, my un-tech savvy mother… it's a Japanese icon…"
"Japanese icon….? Really? Like Haruki Murakami or Yukio Mushima?"
Small back story, dear reader. My mother was a teacher of English Literature at St Xavier's College for 25 years. And, a celebrated author of four short stories collections. Plus, she's a reader of four books a week; hence the question.
"Uh, no… These are different kinds of icons… non human… sort of small… funny faces with varied expressions."
"Oh, like, what's it called, Poking Men."
'Uh no mom... that's Pokemon… That's different, those are imaginary characters, these are animated, cartoon-like faces, stored in your phone which you can use to convey expressions and emotions."
"What…? Repeat that," my mother asked, justifiably nonplussed.
"Well, they are ideograms… smileys… to communicate like, happiness... sadness... relief… when we SMS or Whatsapp one another."
"Why what, Mom?"
"Why do people need to express themselves using silly little symbols? Why not just pick up a phone and chat or vent like I do with you and say, "Rahul, I'm annoyed that you haven't called your mother in three days!"
Couldn't argue that point, for sure.
"Also, how can you possibly express variations of annoyance using a face? Are there emojis for aggravation, anger or total rage? And the opposite. How does a smiley communicate elation, exuberance, extreme joy?"
We both paused.
She for an intake of breath. Me for introspection.
"And what's a hashtag? Don't tell me it's something you occasionally smoked in college!"
"It's a symbol that is used to bring people together under a common platform to discuss."
"Like a discussion group."
"So, where do they meet? In libraries, abandoned rooms, old classrooms, face to face so that they can argue, right?"
"Online?? Give me an example."
'Okay. Say, a socialite goes to vote in the municipal elections and sees an overweight policeman. She tweets a rude comment, p**sing everyone off - the cops, common people, they all want to express irritation at her insensitivity. Here are some possible hashtags — #SocialitesSuck #Don'tPickOnPaunchyPanduHavaldars.
So, this opens up chat possibilities on Twitter, except you have 140 characters to make your point."
"What if I need to convey my point of view in more than 140 words?"
"Not words, ma, characters."
'You're telling me, in these online chats I have to express my point of view in eight words approximately?"
"140 characters is about all today's trolls need. You know what a troll is, right, Mom?"
"That I do. Vicious little cowards, hiding behind the anonymity of social media, to attack others, in numbers, desperately seeking their five minutes of fame."
Here's my hashtag, dear reader —#MomsCanSurpriseYou
Rahul da Cunha is an adman, theatre director/playwright, photographer and traveller. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org