NEW YORK CITY — To quote Shakespeare's Richard III:
A Hunter College theater professor Jonathan Kalb is experimenting with using emojis as a poetic form in a series of short videos.
In one short, Kalb reads a portion of a soliloquy from Shakespeare’s Richard III while corresponding emojis pop up over his face with the goal of testing the "poetic potential" of emojis, he said.
"Could there be an emoji poetry?" Kalb asked in a recent interview with DNAinfo New York.
Kalb’s interest in emojis comes from deeply personal place.
For more than a decade, he’s had Bell’s Palsy, a kind of facial paralysis that left him incapable of smiling normally.
In the physical world, Kalb has all kinds of tricks that help him compensate for his lack of facial expression every day, some of which he detailed in an article for the New Yorker in January.
His interest in emojis followed, he said. It was a digital version of the kind of compensation he was used to doing in real time.
“Emojis are substitutes for facial expressions that [are] impossible in computer mediated communication like email and texting,” he said. “We’re at a disadvantage...we can’t use our bodies or our faces to show inflection.”
That's where emojis come in. They help users make up for missing face-to-face, body-to-body interaction, he said.
Though emojis can behave in the exact opposite way as well, Kalb said.
“Emojis are like a Guy Fawkes mask,” he said, giving the example of a person including a sunglasses smile, “then say[ing] something absolutely horrible.”
Kalb said he finds it fascinating that we've chosen to stick with relatively anonymous forms of communication when we could just as easily be using applications like Skype or Facetime for all of our interactions.
“We chose to stick with these faceless forms," he said. "They’re useful to us.”
And now, in place of facial and body cues, we’re stuck with what he called “this language of correction.”
“We’re trying to correct that with these little cartoon characters,” Kalb said.