COLUMN: How To Dump Someone by emoji

Have you dumped anyone by Emoji yet? I would, but I can’t find the right one. Perhaps something like:


would work? Or maybe:


depending on how serious things had got.

In the digital world we’ve become far more callous. Our interactions are flip and brutal. Online we’re a Mean Girls version of ourselves. We send sarcastic texts, share plastic sentiments, un-friend people on Facebook, leave catty comments on YouTube. We make jokes on Twitter that we wouldn’t tell our mums.

At work we indulge in mild acts of digital passive aggression like power cc-ing our boss into emails. In our love lives we flick through dating sites like Tinder casting off potential lovers faster than Harry Styles gets through celebri-girlfriends. If once we were appalled by Phil Collins leaving his wife by fax, now I’d consider a text break-up polite. People divorce each other by Facebook and are fired by email.

Meanwhile, although publicly we express disgust at cyber-bullies and trolls, in private even the sweetest among us will take time out of our lunch break to tweet David Cameron and call him “dishface”.

Well, quelle surprise! Of course we are crueller digitally. It’s so much easier to be mean when only pixels are at stake. It’s indirect and impersonal. You don’t have to hang around to witness the consequences. The closest you’ll get to seeing tears is:


Technology, by distancing us, allows us to disengage from our interactions. Even more so when we’re talking to virtual strangers online; who it’s hard to conceive of as existing IRL.

A study by Keith Wilcox at Columbia Business School suggests one reason for our techno-sadism is the sense of entitlement we get from our online lives. The constant validation we gain from people Liking our Facebook posts and retweeting our inane comments gives us a Messiah complex that we’ll fight to uphold.

I suspect there’s another reason too. That, in a brave new superficial world, where we’re contending with thousands of daily interactions, experiences and cultures at a rate impossible to assess or digest, engaging unemotionally is the best way to survive. After all, if we’re meaner online, it’s not because technology made us this way. We did it to ourselves. Technology only determines our behaviour as much as we ask it to; we’re the ones who created these ways to interact.

And yet, just as technology was threatening to let us get really evil, we seem to have done a clever about-face. The advent of the emoji suggests something’s changing.

Cheeky, flirty and friendly emojis are no less snappy or crude. Instead they facilitate our brusqueness but they give it a light touch.

With them you can propose to someone:


ask them out for a drink:


or remind them they owe you:


(My friends and I have whole conversations like this.) Yet there is evidence that they haven’t made us softer: the first emoji death threat has been already been sent. (FYI, it looked like this.)

Emojis are clever because in a weird way they’re both an admission of how curt technology has made us, and a humorous attempt to mediate it. They’re like an insult, mixed with a kiss.

So if you haven’t dumped someone by emoji, I suggest you learn how. If the 2000s were ruled by emotional intelligence, then in the 2010s it’s the emojionally literate who’ll thrive.



5 thoughts on “COLUMN: How To Dump Someone by emoji


    Its like you read my mind! You seem to know so much about this, like you
    wrote the book in it or something. I think that you can do with a few pics to drive the message home a bit, but other than that, this is wonderful blog.
    A fantastic read. I will certainly be back.

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