Emoji can be seen as the epitome of the happiness imperative of the 21st Century. In a society, obsessed with visual representations of happiness, their cutesy and delightful imagery is persistently affirming and positivistic. Colors are bright, shapes are round and even sadness is expressed through a smiley face.

The convenience of having a pre-packaged emotional response at the tip of a finger, has taught us to simulate and curate our feelings. We have developed a personalized affinity to the symbols, regularly used in distinct, comedic and often in dishonest, hyperbolized or passive-aggressive manners. The unique codification of our new global language is easily understood by anyone, yet imbued with subjective meanings and masked with post-modern irony.

While the addictive interfaces and cunning social media algorithms are built to attract our attention, the seemingly innocuous design of emoji is helping make connected spaces feel more hospitable and reassuring. The goofy smiling faces and vibrant representations of everyday objects are steering us deeper in the comfort zones of our carefully fabricated digital identities. By painting a gleeful facade over the numerous perils the rampant technological advance presents to our society, the emoji exemplify another way the online world is dismantling authenticity, making us more detached from reality and alienated from each other.

Existential Emoji works as a subverted interpretation of the symbolic codes and conventions behind the iconic pictograms. It is painting an uncanny contrast between colorful, playful imagery and the deeply existential issues and anxieties that permeate the zeitgeist of late capitalism.

By assigning the triviality of emoticons unconventional, yet strangely relatable meanings, it’s trying to remind us of the fragile nature of humanity in the digital age.

Existential Emoji is a project by Tadej Štrok (Twitter / Contact).