Express Yourself

Death to the Emoji

Why these cute little faces could be damaging your relationships

Lazlo Barclay
Human Parts
Published in
13 min readMar 23, 2021


A few weeks ago, I posted an Instagram story in the name of shameless self-promotion. Half an hour later, I checked Instagram and found my story had some replies — cool!

The sight was depressing to say the least. Six of the most recent people to reply to my story had tapped one of the eight automatic reaction emoji to let me know what they thought. But I still didn’t really know what they thought, and the fact that everyone had used the same two emoji left me struggling to differentiate the humans themselves. It felt like the same person had delivered the same message six times.

We often talk about how the digital world connects us all even more, but this experience left me feeling far from connected. So, how did we get to this point?


Human language is a pretty awesome thing. The ability to trade detailed information about concrete and abstract ideas is unique to us and helps us successfully persist as a species.

Communication has been largely verbal for about 98% of our human lifespan. Before the advent of writing, around 5,500 years ago, the only way you could communicate with someone was by uttering things to them in person or using body language. Let’s call this our “natural mode” of communication. The natural mode is operated by our social persona.

Validation is the secret ingredient to developing good human relationships.

In our natural mode, communication tends to revolve around conversation — the act of two or more social personae exchanging information through words, sounds, and physical cues. Conversation is a complex skill that involves a lot of different subskills, and one of the most important of those subskills is validation.

Validation is the secret ingredient to developing good human relationships. It’s what bonds people and forges trust. Friends are friends only because two…