Speaking in Emoji

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I can’t help but notice how common it is to use emoji (maybe even instead of punctuation, gasp) to express emotions, along with a whole host of other things.  The Merriam Webster online dictionary defines emoji as:

“any of various small images, symbols, or icons used in text fields in electronic communication (as in text messages, e-mail, and social media) to express the emotional attitude of the writer, convey information succinctly, communicate a message playfully without using words, etc.”

I remember first using emoji in the early 2000’s at a temp job.  My co-worker and I had downloaded something called a “hotbar” which allowed us to put fun little faces into our emails.  The IT department shut it down when they discovered it interfered with a key reporting program.  However, I was hooked on the funny little faces expressing angst, humor, or my favorite, the one repeatedly spewing a green glob of vomit.  Perfect for the office.

Over the years, options have grown becoming more nuanced and detailed.  I often find it’s not so easy to tell the difference between similar, but yet totally different expressions. It’s a new language.  Apparently, I’m not the only one who is sometimes confused, check out this article “16 Emojis You’ve Been Using All Wrong.”

It never fails to impress me how accurately some people are able to convey emotions and expressions through one tiny emoji.  I’m fairly useless at this.  When I try to reply with emoji, I find myself scrolling through pages of options totally baffled at what emotion each face is trying to convey. Eventually I give up and put in something random thinking surely the person at the receiving end will know exactly what I meant by each non sequitir emoji.Here is the first page of many from my phone’s messaging app:


Emoji options


Some are obvious, but others elude me.  I underlined the 11 different faces smiling and laughing.  They can’t all be expressing humor.

Recently I took a Body Language Quiz that aimed to assess how well I read other people.  Based on my inadequacies with interpreting emoji, I figured my score would be in the lower range.  Much to my surprise I scored a 15/20.  Take the quiz here.

Body Language Quiz Results


I’ve now added an emojidictionary and emojipedia to my collection of links to help me with translations.


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Last year about this time I was moving into my new place.  [Read about it here.]  By the end of the weekend, my arm throbbing with pain, I was ready for a break.  My mother and I headed down to Allan Gardens, an amazing plant conservatory about 5 minutes away.

We entered and were quickly nestled into the warmth and humidity of the domed room at the entrance.  It was the last day of the poinsettia display and the red of the flowers flamed out at us from under the greenery.  The air smelled fresh and alive.  While the world outside was gray and dreary, we strolled through lush, green patches.

Poinsettia display at Allan Gardens (2017).

Poinsettia display at Allan Gardens (2017).

I felt my arm start to relax.  By the time we reached the turtle pond at one end of the garden, I started smiling. My pace slowed and then stopped to watch the turtles swimming around.  Or piling up on the stones to sun themselves.

Turtles, piled up and sunning.

Turtles, piled up and sunning.

My breathing slowed, influenced by the quiet tranquility of the plants surrounding me on all sides.  A glance all the way to the right or left revealed the outside world, beautiful in its own way, but colored with a monochrome palette of whites and grays.  Next to me I heard my mother’s breathing deepen.  Then she remarked how rejuvenating it felt to walk through a garden, at any time of the year, but especially in the winter.

At that moment, I felt lucky.  It was winter in a cold northern climate, but I had the good fortune to be surrounded by living, green plants and flowers with one of my favorite people.  We left sometime later, feeling refreshed, the stress and chaos of the move already forgotten.  They had been replaced by the clean, fresh air provided by the plants in the conservatory.

This year, during a visit, I took my family to Allan Gardens.  We were greeted by a plant-based Penguin trio in the domed entrance and again, the poinsettia display (see above).  Once again, the plants worked their magic on me.  I was instantly rejuvenated.

Penguin jazz band in the domed entrance room. The pianist was across the walkway.

Penguin jazz band in the domed entrance room. The pianist was across the walkway.

Implied Consent

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I’ve become leery of attending events because it’s becoming normalized to give my “implied consent” for the host to use pictures/video of me as an attendee.  For example, in December 2016 I attended an event at the Royal Ontario Museum [ROM] called ROM Friday Night Live. As I entered the building, a sign explained that the event retained the rights to use any photos or video with me however they wanted.

I remember encountering this as a student at the University of British Columbia, which was often used by studios to film movies and television shows.  When filming was going on there were always large signs around the area essentially saying that if we were caught on film the company had the right to use it without getting our explicit consent.  I often tried to go around these areas, but sometimes it just wasn’t possible.

Last year at my Canadian citizenship ceremony something similar happened. Prior to attending the ceremony I was sent a consent form basically giving the Canadian government the right to use any images/video taken of me during the ceremony in perpetuity for whatever they wanted. I should also mention that the consent form I received was incomplete due to a routine printing error and it wasn’t entirely clear what I was signing consent for since some of the text was missing.

I inquired about other options and was told that I could attend a separate ceremony, with no photos/video, which didn’t yet have an assigned date.  Eventually I signed the form because I had already been waiting over a year, but I felt annoyed about the whole thing.

It’s bad enough I feel self-conscious going out with friends because I never know when, where, or how I will end up being posted on somebody’s social media.  Now I feel super self-conscious about attending events, even private ones.  I’m not comfortable with my image being used without my permission, or without even knowing where the image will appear!

One solution is to avoid events, but that is neither a practical nor fun solution.  Even knowing that ROM Friday Night Live may use my image isn’t enough to deter me from going.  However, it does make me think twice before attending other events which may have a similar sign at the entrance.

Planning: Old School Style

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In 2013, I reluctantly switched over from using a paper planner to relying solely on an electronic calendar for managing my schedule.  My rational mind fully understands, and appreciates, all the many perks and conveniences I get by using an electronic calendar.  But another part of me, over 3+ years later, still misses many things about the paper planner.  I even know several people who use paper planners and refuse to go digital.  Or maybe they have a hybrid system.

In terms of ease, both types of planners rank highly.  In terms of convenience and benefits, the electronic planner scores more points than its paper counterpart, so many more points that I had to really sit and think about why I still miss the paper one so much.

People who are serious about keeping paper planners will tell you that the style and brand you select is a highly personal matter.  I always preferred one that offered me a weekly two-page view with Monday as the first day.

The Quo Vadis Sapa was a favorite of mine.  The size was perfect and had ample space for my appointments and notes.  I loved the details offered at a glance telling me which day/week it was with respect to the month and year (e.g. week 37/52 or day 256/365).  Holidays appeared as tiny, unobtrusive notes, whereas in an electronic calendar, they’re the same size as any other appointment. I also enjoyed ripping off the perforated corners to easily access the current week.

Quo Vadis Sapa planner

Quo Vadis Sapa planner

Equally valuable was the ability to toggle between the one-year and weekly views.  I used to track some things on an annual basis, which is no longer possible with the electronic calendar.

Even with all of the options, features, bells and whistles offered by electronic planners, I still can’t get some of the most basic, simple things that I loved so much with a paper planner, such as the yearly view.  It’s strange because with the electronic planner I can easily change my view from daily to weekly to monthly.  But then if the day contains too much information, or too many holidays, I’m limited by the screen space to see everything at a glance.

The ironic thing is that in almost every aspect, the electronic planner is more flexible, offering more and better options for managing my schedule.  And yet, I sometimes still yearn for pen and paper.

Text Neck

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Recently I heard a news story on CBC about the occurrence of text neck.  The article was describing how many people get it because they are always looking down at their phones.  This results in the neck remaining in an elongated position for extended periods of time.  I suppose it’s similar to other types of RSIs (repetitive strain injuries).

Shortly after hearing the story, I developed a temporary bout of text neck.  It was so painful I couldn’t even ride my bike because I couldn’t turn my head to the right.  Luckily it was short lived, but it certainly made me more aware of how and when I was using my phone.

I do hold two recent events partially responsible.  The first one was my iPod breaking, meaning I couldn’t cruise around with my head up listening to tunes and podcasts.  Since I always had my iPod, I never bothered to put music on my phone.  Around the same time, I signed up for a NYTimes subscription, replacing my iPod listening activities with reading articles.  My head was constantly down reading something on my phone.

After the text neck I started to be more mindful.  Now I try to take breaks more often, or hold the phone in different positions to avoid strain. This is part of the same problem with having one device.  Using one device for everything means I’m more often in the same position.  When I used a separate device for each activity, I was naturally moving around more.

Think about the differences between reading a paper book and an ebook.  Reading a paper book requires you to change positions often to turn pages, change hands, etc.  Whereas reading on a smartphone, the only thing that has to move is part of one finger to turn/scroll pages.

At the same time, technology offers amazing solutions and alternatives for using my smartphone in different positions.  Wearable devices and voice-activated softwares all provide new and more ergonomic ways to interact with a smartphone.

I now make more of an effort to do things more mindfully with my phone so as not to stress my neck again.  It’s amazing how many new things I see and notice since I started looking up from my phone once in a while.  And I can turn my head fully.

New Year’s Resolution: Avoid Text Neck!

Virtual Reality

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Over the holidays I had my first foray into virtual reality.  As if we haven’t already been living in an altered reality from the US presidential election and president-elect Trump rewriting nuclear arms policies in a 140-character tweet.  Now we can create a new reality, or escape from our existing one for a brief period of time, through the use of a virtual reality viewer.

Earlier this year, the NY Times sent my mother a cardboard virtual reality viewer. I assembled it and immediately downloaded the NY Times VR app to check out the options.  The viewer isn’t necessary, just a smartphone.

Cardboard viewer from the NY Times. My smartphone fits in the back and then the flap is secured with velcro holding the phone in place.

Cardboard viewer from the NY Times. My smartphone fits in the back and then the flap is secured with velcro holding the phone in place.

Fortunately, the first couple of times I used the virtual reality viewer in an open area.  That way I wasn’t hitting and bumping into things as I swiveled my head and spun around trying to see everything.  First I watched a video about detainees in England and got to walk around their tiny prison cells to “experience” their reality.  Then I switched to something more upbeat, a redwood forest meditation followed by another video of a herd of bison.

I realize that the free cardboard viewer is pretty basic compared to the more sophisticated ones available for purchase, complete with something to hold it on your head.  A quick Google search revealed a number of virtual reality viewers already available on the market.  I had to hold mine against my face which got pretty tiresome for my arms after a while.

In November I went to an exhibit called “Small Wonders: Gothic Boxwood Miniatures” at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO).  It was days after my LASIK surgery and I remember feeling enormous relief walking around the dimly lit exhibit area.  It was pretty amazing to see these miniatures, some of them only the size of a clementine with such intricate carvings layered inside.  I felt a bit sad that the virtual reality display, which would have allowed us to “walk” inside one of the miniatures was not fully operational when we went.  However, we saw a video of the VR experience which looked pretty neat.

It’s still early days for virtual reality, but I can already see how it will begin to be incorporated more into our everyday experiences.