By Julia Arnold of Frantic Mama
“I’m really not sure when it all started to spiral out of control,” an anxious mother of two, Cecilia Winstock,* tells reporters. “I guess I just thought emojis helped texts make it clear how I was feeling. You know, like that cute smiley winking one to indicate I was joking, or a sad face with a single tear to show I felt bad about something. It just got out of hand from there.”
This mother, and many others like her, have taken their emoji use too far. In a desperate cry for help, Winstock’s family begged her to join an Emoji Users Anonymous group ASAP.
“Her texts were becoming more and more emoji-heavy,” her husband says, looking dumfounded. “To the point where there were more emojis than actual letters. One time, she sent me an entire text of just emojis. No words. That’s when I knew things had gotten out of hand.”
“It’s kind of like binge-eating or drug use,” emoji and GIF over-user expert and counselor, Sarah Small, explained. “Once you start using one or two emojis on a regular basis, your body wants to use more and more. It becomes a craving. Even if you know what you’re doing is wrong, you can’t help yourself. Emojis have a powerful pull.”
Laura Smith, a once-frequent recipient of Winstock’s emoji-laden texts, expressed concern about her friend early on, worry that increased with every passing emoji. “Yeah, sure,” she said, “the rest of us might throw in a happy face or thumbs up now and then, but she started to take it so much further than that. One night, I think she used the beer cheers emoji, the tongue sticking out emoji, the laugh-crying emoji, and then, inexplicably, the purple devil emoji. That one really freaked me out.”
That’s when Smith gave her friend some tough love—it was either admit she had a problem, or find a new friend to text.
Seth Johnson, a self-proclaimed “reformed emoji user” said it’s harder than you might think to quit cold turkey. “Picture this: you’re a hungry kid with fifty cents in your pocket, staring at rows and rows of brightly colored sugary treats at a candy shop, and then someone says you can’t buy anything. I mean, are you kidding me? There are just so many emojis to choose from. My favorite was always the dancing lady in the red dress. She really said it all.”[At this point, Johnson starts rapidly tapping at his phone while the experts try to wrench it from his hands.]
Another emoji user (who chooses to remain anonymous) didn’t realize for some time that she was actually over-using emojis. “All of a sudden, one night, I had one of those lightbulb moments: I realized I was the only one on Facebook, Twitter, and in my group text strings still using emojis. Like, just for the heck of it, I would throw in a cowboy emoji or the cat with hearts for eyes…and [laughs] the hilarious one of the the monkey covering up his eyes! Have you seen that one? Priceless!”
Expert Sarah Smith reports that if emoji users don’t start to get things under control, they are at a greater risk of becoming over-GIF users. GIFs are those funny little video shorts now available all over social media and on your smartphone.
“One really unfortunate user started turning to GIFs late at night when the rest of her family was asleep. She loved that Michael Jackson eating popcorn one. There was also one of Honey Boo Boo laughing she was obsessed with. Which, sure, they’re funny once, maybe twice, but she kept using them. She was in a bad place when she found our group,” Smith shivers a bit, and trails off.
It’s a sad tale that is told many times over. Smith now leads weekly sessions for the growing numbers of emoji over-users, at Emoji Users Anonymous (EUA). The hardest thing newcomers have to do is turn their phones off upon entering the space.
“We want to create a safe space here at EUA,” explains Smith. “No text chimes to distract us. No Facebook notifications. It’s all too tempting for the emoji-addicted.” Smith explains that the first step in the 12-step recovery program is admitting you have a problem, and that you are powerless over emojis.
She says, “You must believe they’ve made your life unmanageable. Only by moving through the 12 steps can emoji over-users hope to reach the true spiritual awakening that comes with knowing emojis are always available, but choosing not to use them.”
Is there any hope for emoji over-users in the future? Only time will tell.
*Names have been changed to protect the identities of those seeking treatment.
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