“An emoji says a thousand words,” writes Yohana Desta. The little digital images which originated in Japan in the late ‘90s are everywhere, from smartphone operating systems to social media. For “the quick text generation”, sometimes sending one tiny emoji is easier than typing a response. “However, the psychology behind the emoji obsession runs a little deeper” as shown by a study conducted by Dr Owen Churches at Flinders University in Australia.
His research shows that people react to emoticons the same way they would react to a real human face. From a visual perspective, emoji are similar to faces, he explains. So with the numerous emoji options, and the 250 new ones arriving soon, which are the most popular? Data aggregation site FiveThirtyEight created a code to find out the most popular emoji used on Twitter, as of June 2014. Hearts topped the list with 342 million tweets, followed by a face laughing with tears coming out of its eyes, the ‘Unamused’ face, the ‘Heart Eyes’ face and the ‘Relaxed’ face. Emojis have even become prevalent in pop culture. NBA player Mike Scott covered his arm in emoji tattoos. Katy Perry made an entire music video for Roar using emoji as lyrics.
“Stephen King’s latest novel, Mr Mercedes, will leave you more afraid of the guy next door than of ghosts and ghouls,” writes Stephanie Merritt. There’s nothing paranormal about his 57th novel. “It’s a good old-fashioned, race-against-time thriller with all the favourite tropes of the genre: the maverick detective; the killer with a personal vendetta; the band of misfits who cooperate to stop him,” writes Merritt.
Mr Mercedes opens in 2009, as the recession tightens its grip on an unnamed city. A job fair is to be held; the unemployed turn up to queue in their thousands overnight. As dawn breaks, a sleek Mercedes SL500 emerges out of the fog and ploughs through the packed line, killing eight people and injuring 15. “It’s a sledgehammer of a metaphor: a luxury car heedlessly crushing those who are already victims of inequality”, opines Merritt. Since this is not a whodunnit, we learn almost immediately that the killer is 28-year-old Brady Hartfield, who is still at large a year later. The most chilling aspect is how many potential Bradys there might be lurking across recession-blighted America, blaming society for what they become, ends Merritt.
Pope Francis’ new clothes
Anna March comments on how Pope Francis’ progressive image is “white smoke and mirrors”, and how he is every bit the “sexist homophobe” as his predecessors. “There is an enormous disconnect between who the pope really is in terms of his policies and his public relations image, as crafted by the Vatican’s PR man, previously with Fox News,” writes March, adding that the current PR mission is about reversing the “incredible decline in fundraising under the last pope, from the US Catholic Church in particular”.
She claims that the new pope has made a number of statements that seem to indicate change and progress, but these have not been reflected in policy. Even so, people in the US have “fallen hard” for Pope Francis. “Seven-in-ten US Catholics also now say Francis represents a major change in direction for the church,” says a poll conducted by the Pew Research Centre. By quoting various media reports on the “many sides of Pope Francis”, March concludes that “in truth, while he is a PR darling, the new pope aligns closely on social issues with his predecessor, the wildly unpopular Pope Benedict XVI.”