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I wrote recently about the inexorable rise of digitisation in our lives and the workplace and made some pointed comments about the need for the workforce to be able to adapt and stay ahead of automation. I do my best to stay at the leading edge by keeping up to date with technology. Yes I’m even contemplating an Apple watch…apparently the big decision to be made is which strap to choose!

Not long ago I did a software update on my iphone to the latest iOS8.3. I was interested to see what was new with the update and it appeared at first glance that the key change was an increase in the number of emojis. Exchanging texts with my millennial children is a good way I find to stay in touch with things (as well as Spotify of course). I’ve noticed lately that they have wholeheartedly embraced the use of emojis within their text language.

Today’s text exchange with my daughter is a case in point. Our family have had a special connection with Amy Winehouse over the years to the point that my daughter has a treasured personal note written to her by Amy. I read a film review for the movie Amy which is the story of her life; both fantastic and tragic and thought I would let my daughter know that it had just been released. I got back a text that contained no text just two emojis, but which spoke volumes.

 followed by .

That made me think. Some of us have long lamented the lowering of the standard of English, particularly in the work environment where the age-old wordsmith skills seem to no longer be held in such high regard. The wonderful writings of the classic authors is being lost on our younger generation and as we now communicate more in electronic form, our ability to use the English language at its best is being quite quickly eroded. Emails were the start, but the minute SMS messaging came in so did the truncation of words and the tossing aside of grammatical rules. Twitter (of which I am a frequent visitor/contributor I must admit) has further exacerbated this situation by limiting our prose and long-form expression to just 140 characters.

If we look at the development of written language, the earliest form is cave painting of which Australia has many shining examples. There is the hieroglyphics of the ancient Egyptians and we move through the different languages as exhibited in the Rosetta Stone through to Old and Middle English and the language we have today. We get Shakespeare and the wonderful Dickens, Twain, Austen, the Brontes, Hardy, Joyce, Yeats, White etc. Lately though, it would appear that our linguistic skills and expression in written form is not capable of matching the complexity and beauty that our forebears were able to capture on paper. And perhaps that is the key missing ingredient; paper. The lack of complexity or beauty in modern day writing when viewed on an electronic device does not jar half as much as it does when that same message is committed to paper.

Now it appears we are about to come full circle. To make things easier and save writing words we now have a large and ever expanding ‘library’ of emojis to do more than just express our emotions within a written message. Indeed emojis are now being used to replace words altogether. The other day when I asked my son what his mark was in an exam rather than him responding with “I’m not going to tell you” I got three emojis:

It didn’t take me long to work out the message, but there is a world of difference between the exact meaning of this in words and what interpretation I might ascribe to it on the presumption that I understand what the three monkeys mean anyway.

As more and more emojis are created, and we pepper our messages with them, it will become incumbent upon us to learn to adeptly read visual rather than linguistic/written comprehension cues. We know from management studies that good leaders have highly refined emotional intelligence. An extra aspect to that EQ may well turn out to be the ability to read simple emotional graphics to understand the joy, heartache, disappointment, sadness, boredom or excitement of the writer. Indeed our very business survival might depend upon it.