My nephews feel my text messages are dull, boring. They are of that generation that doesn’t speak to anyone; rather, my nephews text people even when that person is in the same room with them.
I don’t quite understand this behavior, given I’m a man of a certain age, but I speak more to my nephews by text than I do when I’m with them. When we’re together, words falter, topics to talk about abandon me, and after a few inquiries about school, sports, and the latest gadgets, they retreat to their Nintendos, PS2s, or whatever game console is en vogue that week.
This week, one of my nephews turns 18 years of age. I sent him a message congratulating him and wishing him a happy, happy day. He was appreciative of the message, but mentioned that the birthday cake photo I sent him was, well…passé! Are you taking French now? I asked. No, he said. Some girl he knows at school taught him the word.
So what do you suggest I do, I asked. I want to be hip, with it, cool, and down-with-it. He must have rolled his eyes because he sent me a barrage of emojis I did not recognize. He said he’d help, and suggested a number of apps I might download and use to enhance my text messages.
I replied that I had no desire to be made to look like a dog, or like I had stepped in front of a carnival mirror that stretched my figure beyond anything medical science would recognize as human. I also wanted the workings of the app to be simple. I did not want to have to wrestle my phone to send out a message should I find myself in a bind.
After some hmmm-and-uhmmm-ing, my nephew suggested I’d become Bitmoji-ed. The app would upgrade my texts with amusing cartoons for just about any situation. He said the app was easy to use and that he’d show me how to use it.
Seeing it as an opportunity to become re-acquainted with someone my sister insists I’m related to, I agreed. I sat down with my nephew during his birthday party and we went over the myriad of options the app provides to create a personal Bitmoji. This gave my nephew plenty of opportunity to make fun of me, and gave me plenty of chances to withdraw the gift certificate I’d brought as a birthday gift. We wrestled over hair coloring, waist size, clothes options, and face shape, but in the end, the possibility of missing out on a generous cash gift won out, and I got a new Bitmoji that looks something like me, but that I wouldn’t necessarily recognize as myself in a Pixar film.
The time spent sitting next to my nephew was worth it, however. As we sat together on the couch and he worked the phone the way I work a double cheeseburger with fries, I recalled the first time I held him as a baby, the times he came to visit me in New York as a kid, the face he made when I took him to see the dinosaur bones at the Museum of National History, and every time I managed to embarrass him in front of his friends. What is an uncle for, after all?
This fall, my nephew will be off to college. Most of our conversations will have to be done by text message. For a second, I wondered if being Bitmoji-ed was his way of saying he wanted me to text him and stay in touch when he’s away. I almost teared up by the thought. But then, his cousins came into the room, and with a teenage grunt of acknowledgement, they said hello to their uncle and retreated to their teen-man cave to play their games.
I wondered if the newly installed app had a way for me to flip them the middle finger, but, alas, the folk at Bitmoji probably do not have the kind of nephews I have for family. No matter. All my friends were impressed and complementary of my texting abilities. And given I look better as a Bitmoji, I’m thinking of uploading this alter-ego to a friendly social site where maybe it can attract more attention than I have.