Bitmojis: a bridge toward authenticity?

Stephen Woodworth

Few situations in life have prompted as much internal dialogue as the creation of my Bitmoji. My love handles - did they really disqualify me from the athletic body shape? Was it truly necessary to choose a nose that actually matched the crooked shape of my own? Why are there so many eyebrow choices? And, more importantly, why was I so tempted to downplay the actual size of what I have always referred to as my “cow eyes”? It took me longer to dress my Bitmoji than it did to dress myself.

Such is the existential crisis many have found themselves in with the arrival of Bitmojis. In a recent New York Times article, fashion writer Ashley Parker described a Bitmoji as “a personalized emoticon, designed by you, to look like a more delightful, caricatured version of your actual self.” Essentially, it is an emoticon as a personalized cartoon character that looks shockingly like its creator.

And, as is often the case with technology, what becomes a flop and what blooms into a cultural phenomenon tells us much about who we are as a society. In regards to the popularity of Bitmojis, it is the ability and desire to re-create ourselves into a more palatable public form that underlines their success. Indeed, ours is a highly evaluative culture; from our resumes to our possessions, our waistlines to our titles, we are keenly aware that giving and receiving assessment is a regular component of all human relationships. Hence we are frequently tempted to present a carefully cultivated version of ourselves.

Bitmojis reveal the expectation that we will someday be more than what we are.

This is particularly true in religious fellowship, where expectations of personal piety often cause people to adorn permanent smiles and cheery facades that mask their imperfections and insecurities. Along these lines, Bitmojis offer a practical way of softening our edges, or, as Parker describes it, “marrying our own sense of self with our public image, yet in a safe, quirky way that we ultimately control.” And control is what we are after. Control over the way we are seen by others and the ability to control only those things that we choose to confess about ourselves: our wrinkles, our love handles, the size of our ears or the shape of our nose.

But I believe Bitmojis also point to a deeper reality about each of us - the often unspoken expectation that we will someday be more than what we are. Jacob Blackstock, Bitmoji’s CEO, notes, “These avatars are like your id, and that can take any form … the embodiment of your essential form.” Writing once to a spiritually immature church in Corinth, the Apostle Paul encouraged them by stating, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” Blackstock may be overstating his product’s ability to meet this desire to be “fully known,” but he certainly understands the psychology behind it.

While we wait for the fruition of Paul’s promise, there is a certain restlessness in the core of each of us, a restlessness that lives within the tension of Geerhardus Vos’ “now/not yet.” It is the struggle of living between who were are and who we will become. In this way, Bitmojis serve as a bridge towards authenticity. They provide us with the freedom to embrace and even chuckle a bit at our current state, while also serving as a reminder that we are “fully known” as the people we long to be, the people we will become and the people we are already becoming.

Topics: Online, Culture At Large, Science & Technology, Technology, Gadgets, Theology & The Church, Theology