Imagine me aghast when, chancing upon a Facebook message sent by one of my closest friends, I discovered the poop emoji had been redesigned. Could it be? A visit to another thread, where it was again my emoji of choice, confirmed the horror.
Gone the void-like, powerfully evocative staring eyes which could somehow signify in any situation. Gone, too, its more recent iteration immortalized in recent hollywood blockbusters desperate to seem current (like Deadpool or Popstar), that poop with the cheeky grin. The conspiratorial poop that somehow always made you feel in on the joke. And yesterday this was replaced by a totally different, nearly-identical deranged-looking poop.
I immediately set out to discover the reason behind this madness, and to demand answers. Could Facebook somehow not have realized what an important cultural touchstone the poop emoji was to their users? The poop emoji has become a weird, fascinating piece of our digital cultural heritage. It’s semiotic magic: used to convey agreement, excitement, bafflement, tender appreciation and affection to our nearest and dearest, its connotations are diverse and hard to pin down.
By sending images devoid of textual explanation, emoji culture engages in a kind of nonverbal communication that allows meanings to proliferate. You know how actions speak louder than words? emojis have come to contain more signification than any one sentence can. It’s one of my favourite things about digital culture now; it allows for increased creativity and playfulness when communicating.
While some emojis still signify only exactly what they directly resemble, others have accumulated more diverse associations (eggplant, anyone? I for one believe the connotations of that large, bulbous vegetable will never be supplanted by another vegmoji).
It’s largely convention; a friend and I have developed a code around the watermelon emoji. It’s alternately celebratory, festive, comforting, friendly, or just plain food, whenever we want it to be one of those things. Similarly, the sender of a poop emoji has to want to convey that emoji’s enigmatic constellation of associations, and the recipient has to infer from context and the effect of that cheeky fecal face.
Does altering its aesthetic hurt the semiotic magic of the poop emoji? A change to the flat, non-textured colours of mainstream digital convention was long overdue, on that we can agree. But the change to the Facebook emojis serves another function—cross-platform compatibility. Users who feared the blank box when messaging between Android and Apple devices can rest easier knowing the changes include Facebook’s implementation of “a universal standard to ensure that the emojis you send is the emoji that the receiving party sees, even if they’re on another platform or their version of the app is not updated.”
Though this is good news for digital communication, we can all take a moment of silence for the bemused poop emoji of bygone days, whose specific associations will be relegated to the realm of 4chan nostalgia and Buzzfeed articles about “20 things 20-somethings remember.”
But the fun of these ambiguous emoji has less to do with their literal look and more to do with the way habit evolves around these nonverbal signs. Ultimately, the change will have little effect on the popularity of the poop emoji and the way its meanings proliferate. Though it hurts now, this pain will fade as we become habituated to a poop emoji that’s actually quite similar to its mobile predecessor, in both shape and expression.
And it turns out the poop emoji as we knew it isn’t entirely gone. You can turn off the new emojis in messenger, though not on your desktop yet. If you’re still in denial.