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Let’s Talk About Emojis

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Emojis have made messaging so fun. They became popular since they appeared on Japanese mobile phones in the late 90s. They have now evolved from being very informal to appearing in corporate emails, press releases and economic reports. Emojis went from being used only by millennials and the cool kids to their acceptance into formal communication.


Over time, emojis evolved into being adaptable to everyone from different cultures, tribe, creed, gender, time and s****l orientation. It has been able to represent the most diverse cultures. It is one of the things that have made it stay relevant.


How it all began

In 1999, Japanese artist Shiegetaka Kurita created the first emoji. At first, they were simply emoticons that were in the conversations in the 1990s. There were the primitive days of :-), :-(, 8-D (used to portray sarcasm) and the full ¯_(ツ)_/¯ puzzled face.



Kurita worked on the development team for “i-mode.” It was an early mobile internet platform from Japan’s main mobile carrier, DOCOMO. He wanted to design an attractive interface to convey information in a simple, succinct way. Kurita then sketched a set of 12 by 12-pixel images that could be selected from a keyboard-like grid. Then he sent on mobiles and pages as their own individual characters.


The original emojis were 176 altogether. They are now part of the permanent collection at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. They included characters to show the weather, traffic, technology and all the phases of the moon.


At the time, they were merely informational characters. But for the first time, emoji were now able to add emotional subtext to a message. Adding the ❤️ love emoji can convey warmth and sympathy in a message that one might otherwise take out of context.


Already popular in Japan, a software internationalisation team at Google decided to lead the charge, petitioning to get emoji recognised by the Unicode Consortium. This is a nonprofit group that works like the United Nations to maintain text standards across computers. Unicode focused on standardising the codes for language so that the letters you typed in English, Chinese, Arabic or Hebrew showed up accurately across platforms and across devices. The Google team made a case for emoji to fall under the same standard.



In 2010, Unicode accepted a proposal by a pair of Apple engineers, Yasuo Kida and Peter Edberg to adopt 625 new emoji characters.


Emoji evolution

1999: This was the advent of emojis. It had icons for weather, time, traffic, and technology.

2010: This was when Unicode officially adopted emojis. It added hundreds more like cat faces emoting happiness, anger, and tears.

2015: Emoji got a diversity update. There were five new skin tones and a set of same-s*x couples. 👬

2016: The updates give rise to the LGBTQ rainbow flag, single dad and weightlifting woman emoji.

2017: New emoji are proposed to suggest characters to convey information across language and culture. Such as a mosquito to represent illnesses like malaria and the Zika virus.


The future

Every year new emojis are being considered by the Unicode Consortium. The cultural lexicons of emojis will continue to evolve with new updates on Android and iOS. Recent updates in 2017 introduced mythical creatures, animals, food, faces like the mind-blown emoji, a woman carrying a baby and another wearing a hijab.



In 2018, they added the options to give emojis grey or red hair, as well as new cultural symbols like a mooncake and a Nazar amulet. Most recently, emoji additions include symbols for deaf people, people in wheelchairs and interracial couples.


Minority cultures and communities are constantly getting represented in the emoji vocabulary and it will continue to evolve. This could also mean words will be used less as more people are using the 😂 in place of ‘Lol’ or ‘Lmao’. There is also talks of genderless emojis and representing people from different tribes and geo-political zones.

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