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Emojis

The gestures, actions and emotions we have all come to love


By Dilara Eroğlu


Before written text, we communicated through cave art, cuneiform, and hieroglyphics. Now that emojis are part of our common language, you could say we've come full circle! Even though we may not use them to email our teachers or colleagues, they are widely used on social media while interacting with friends and family.


Emojis evolved from the early days of computing when people used keyboard characters to represent actions, gestures, body language, motions, tone, and facial expressions. Hence, they were labelled 'emoticons' as a mash-up of the words 'emotions' and 'icons.' To this day :) and :P are still used. In fact, they are such an integral part of our vocabulary, that in 2015, Oxford English Dictionary chose the "laughing tears of joy" emoji as the word of the year.


Emojis were developed in 1999 by a Japanese telecom employee named Shigetaka Kurita in order to keep cell phone data usage down, and succinctly communicate emotions that might get lost in digital communication. The word 'emoji' comes from the combination of two Japanese words; 'picture' (e) and 'character' (moji). You can view the original 176 emojis at the Museum of Modern Art in New York to get a sense of the first-generation images and how they have evolved since then.


Apple is credited for spreading the popularity of the emoji and first included them in their iOS operating system as a way to capture the Japanese market when they launched the iPhone in Japan. Although they had attempted to hide the emoji keyboard from their other global consumers, curious users discovered they could download a Japanese keyboard and use the emojis, which is when their popularity soared. Apple included emojis as part of their operating system starting in 2011, and Android followed.


There are now more than 3,000 emojis, with hundreds of proposals for new images every year. How exactly do these little icons come to be? All new emojis need to be approved by the Unicode Consortium, which is a nonprofit group based in Silicon Valley in the United States. Anyone can propose a new emoji, at no cost, The submission, selection, and approval process generally takes about two years to complete before it is released for general use.


Software companies are free to decide which emojis they want to use from the approved Unicode list of characters, and they are responsible for the design. That's why you'll see variations of the same emoji depending on the software you are using. It is interesting to see how some software companies design their versions of emojis, and how they are beginning to incorporate more diversity and inclusive images of people.


Even though these little images are designed to communicate a universal visual language, certain emojis are downright confusing. When you see this emoji 😪, what do you think it represents? This is the “Sleepy Face Emoji”. Shocking, I know. Some people would disagree and say that this little character looks upset and maybe discontent. The original idea comes from the Japanese depiction of sleeping people with a bubble of snot coming from their nose. There's a lot of debate over what specific emojis depict. Despite (or because of) the confusion it creates, they are fun to use.


The popularity of emojis transcends age, but teenagers tend to use them more frequently since they've grown up with them and knowing which ones to use comes naturally to them. Friend groups may adopt certain emojis as an inside joke, or assign their own meanings to them. Because of the different ways emojis can be combined and interpreted, they are versatile and that is what makes them more interactive and entertaining to use.


Emojis have not only transformed the way we communicate but have also become ingrained into our popular culture. Its colourful and creative imagery has a universal appeal, which has had a tremendous effect on advertising and marketing. The emoji-obsessed can find these images emblazoned on pillows, clothing, pencils, notebooks, and other accessories. There was even a movie about emojis. They have become an undeniable influence on our lives.

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