Emojis have changed how we communicate with each other. We punctuate our electronic conversations with images designed to mirror our thoughts or emotions. Once the hip new tool of the young, emojis became a universal phenomenon. We use millions of emojis every day, exchanged between people who talk over the web and on mobile phones. And like the fire emoji, their use has spread even to social media.
From our messages to social media campaigns for brands, emojis are everywhere. Yet how have these little pictograms changed the way we communicate? And what is in store for the future of emojis and how we communicate in the digital era?
What Is An Emoji?
An emoji is a small image or pictogram. These little pictures are used to convey moods, emotions, or to denote an idea. Once limited to a few hundred images, there are now 3178 emojis that can be used, thanks to the Unicode Standard.
Emojis And A History Of Digital Communication
Emojis were first developed by the Japanese in 1999. Fast forward to today and all the major service providers and platforms use their version of emojis.
Since then, emojis have become an important tool in messaging apps. Social media platforms Facebook, Twitter and Instagram account for the majority of emoji use. Mobile messenger apps also find emojis useful.
Even companies and brands have gotten into the act. Coca-Cola launched an emoji on Twitter. In 2015, the company used the emoji as a way to promote the hashtag #ShareACoke.
Emojis have also been used to promote social causes as well. The pink ribbon emoji was released in 2015 as part of an effort to boost awareness of breast cancer. An orange ribbon emoji, meanwhile, was used for Suicide Prevention Day in 2018.
Emojis And How We Read Them
While emojis are designed to be universal, context and culture can change what each emoji means. Take the inconspicuous eggplant emoji, for one. Show this emoji to a millennial and to an older person and they will see this in different ways. An older person would just see an eggplant. Someone younger would probably giggle a bit when shown this emoji comes on screen as it’s also used as a phallic symbol by some.
Culture also plays a part in how emojis are interpreted. In China, for example, using the waving hand emoji is seen as being rude. In Greece and the Middle East, the thumbs up emoji is a vulgar expression. The folded hands emoji, typically seen as a symbol for prayer, isn’t used by Muslims, who instead use the heart emoji to indicate prayer. The Japanese, who pioneered the use of emojis, use this emoji as a way of saying “please” and “thank you”.
Some emojis also come out differently depending on the platform that is in use. Using an emoji in iOS to a user on an Android phone may yield different looking emoji.
Despite their being seen as a universal means of communication, you should take care when using emojis. As with words, emojis can be misinterpreted or taken out of context.
The Evolution Of Language And Emojis
Experts claim that language is alive. It grows and evolves over time, and changes to adapt to whatever modes of communication are available. The rise of electronic forms of communication, such as messaging apps and SMS, and the growth of social media has changed how we talk to each other.
A lot of the elements that make up communication between humans disappear when talking to each other over the internet. Things that help us understand what the other is saying, like tone of voice, body language, don’t translate well into text. Sarcasm and irony are often the victims of this. Emojis help bridge the gap, allowing us to express ourselves using text alone.
While many are bemoan the use of emojis, others are more welcoming of them. Many think that emojis let us be more creative in communicating with each other. Emojis let users convey thoughts and emotions in a way that is often lost in text. A sly wink, a shrug, a smile emoji in your text messages can change how your message is received.
Love them or loathe them, emojis are definitely here to stay as the new staple of our daily language. While we probably won’t see emoji in any dictionary anytime soon, you can expect these symbols to evolve with time.