The rise of the emoji: communication in the smartphone era

Teenagers and young adults worldwide (plus tech companies like us!) are enamoured by the ‘emoji’ phenomenon. So much so, that ‘Face with Tears of Joy’ (technically an ‘emoji’) was selected Oxford Dictionaries 2015 Word of the Year. Brands are also increasingly using emojis to gain attention.

The infographic below highlights the most popular emojis used by ‘people’ and ‘brands’.

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The emoji has changed the way the world communicates and we at Shout love them — they have even been incorporated in our app.

Emoji has been adopted the world over meaning you can communicate with the same icons to someone on the other side of the planet. Sending little photos can make communication across languages much easier. In the same way that we use body language in face-to-face conversations, emojis and emoticons reduce the risk of ambiguity in messages. But there are cultural differences to be aware of. Like every message in the world of media, emojis too are inherently polysemic. They are open to misunderstanding as there is always a chance that each user could analyse and decode a unique message from the same emoji. Have you ever sent an emoji that was interpreted in a completely different way?

What is an emoji?

An emoji is a small image or icon which is used electronically, usually depicting emotions or common objects.

Those iconic little Japanese images are more popular than ever before. There are even ​emoji translators to help you figure out what they mean.

Check out Emojipedia to find out the most popular emojis and other emoji related facts and stas!

You can also test your emoji knowledge with the question below.

Q: Can you decode the following sequence of emojis?

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If you haven’t cracked it find out the answer at the end!

So, when was the emoji invented?

The origins of the term itself stem from the Japanese language:

(e ? picture) ? (mo ? writing) ? (ji ? character)”.

This article from The Verge explains the origins of emoji in more details and how they became so popular. Shigetaka Kurita, a former employee of the Japanese telecommunications company, NTT DoCoMo, is credited as the inventor. At DoCoMo, Kurita sought a tool to simplify communication while simultaneously adding an emotional context typically absent from electronic communication. Kurita set to work, drafting the first 172 or so emoji himself in just 10 days.

Emojis were originally invented with the intention to keep up with the pace of technology by conveying messages with a flick. Today, they can be seen as a means of expression, in our day to day life as well as many advertising and social media campaigns. They were inspired by the Manga art.

They didn’t become a part of lives overnight. In fact, the Western world didn’t see the adoption of official emoji until 2010 when Unicode, an organisation that coordinates the development of messaging platforms, adopted them as the norm. Since then emoji has been included in a number of platforms including iOS and Android.

Emoji is not a language — it is a form of communication

The emoji has been likened to Hieroglyphics since it launched. However, the concept is quite different. Strictly speaking emoji is not a language. It’s a form of communication. The emoji adds an element that’s missing from text-based communication. It is best likened to the social cues that we get when we communicate in spoken language. Those are non-linguistic.

However, despite our shockingly close attachment to these pictographs, linguist John McWhorter claims that people cannot communicate purely through emojis, because the receiver would have to be given more context: what the sender is talking about, what happened, when, etc.

Social Media platforms and emojis

The adoption of emojis by social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp have led to them becoming what they are today. It is not an exaggeration to say that as emojis became standardized, they took over the world. Emojis make brands fun and relatable.

Lost in translation

A smile means the same thing more or less whether you speak English, French, Japanese or Swahili. However, there are cultural differences in how emoji are used The praying hands emoji in Western culture relates to represents religious seminary.

But that’s not the origin of the emoji. It’s from Japanese culture where it relates to a conventional sign that people make to say please and to thank somebody.

Cultural differences are not the only issue within emoji communication. Each platform has a slightly different version of emoji that means sending one to a different device can sometimes end in a mistranslation.

For example, if you send an emoji of the smiley poo on iOS 9.1 to a device running Android 5.0 Lollipop it’ll come out the other side as a poo with flies and no face.

It can change the meaning of the emoji from what the sender originally intended.

This kind of thing is not supposed to happen because Unicode sets criteria for how things should be displayed in terms of how central they should be, what features they should have. But there is a difference across all the platforms.

Emoji has even made it into the dictionary!

The emoji craze had caught on so much throughout 2012 and 2013 that it was added as a real word by Oxford Dictionaries in August 2013.

Recently, has officially added explanations for these little pictorial symbols, becoming the first major reference to do so.

A documentary sums up our obsession with emojis published a creative short film featuring emojis as the subject of a documentary, inspired by the work and distinct voice of Sir David Attenborough.

The film is less than two minutes long, but it sums up our strange and confusing obsession with emoji quite well. You can watch it here.

Emoji in popular culture

Millions of people, from talk show hosts to world leaders, have engaged in a dialogue about and with emoji and what it means to communication. They are becoming an increasingly pervasive communication instrument, which is increasingly used in advertising, to discuss social issues and advocacy, and to even a bridge communication tool between generations.

Ellen DeGeneres was an early adopter among celebs and discussed emoji in her show back in March 2014. Emoji literally rocked the world scene in 2015.

Emoji have developed past their original purpose

Emoji have developed past their original purpose. It’s not all just about giving a friend a wink on a sarcastic message anymore. Works of literature have even been translated into emoji.

What was a relatively simple idea to put emotion back into text speak has now jumped the species divide and is being used all over the place.

Brands using emojis

Brands have recently noticed how well versed we are in emojis. Ikea, the Swedish furniture company, recently created over 100 custom icons to represent its products — think about classic couches, laundry hampers, and even Swedish meatballs. The promotional video below explains that Ikea’s series of emoticons “take the misunderstandings out of your communication.”

Coca-Cola took the emoji explosion in a different direction: The company created a bunch of Web addresses using emojis as domain names. It registered every single happy

Tinder and interracial couple emojis

Dating app Tinder is spearheading a proposal to create interracial couple emojis and submitted its suggestion to the Unicode Consortium in February 2018.

The company is asking for 21 different sequences with various skin tones, including same-sex couples.

Tinder said: “It may seem like there’s an emoji for everything, but that’s not the case. While emojis for people of colour and emojis for same-sex couples both became a reality in 2015, one group of people is still excluded from emoji representation: interracial couples.”

Unicode finalises list of new emoji making their way to your iPhone and Android smartphone in 2018

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The 2018 release from the Unicode Consortium contains Emoji 11.0, which brings 157 new adorable little pixel blobs to the 2,666 that previously existed. The list includes people with red, curly, and no hair.

The future of emojis

With the advent of the Apple Watch and other wearables, emojis could play an even larger part in the way we communicate.

Since the watch won’t serve practically as a platform for long-form communication, emojis will serve well to answer quick questions. “How do you feel?” “What do you want for dinner?” and “What do you want to do tonight?” could all be responded to with emojis.

With the way language has evolved over the past couple of years, it might be presumptuous to assume that our use of emojis won’t be affected by our Internet devices and the way they allow us to link globally. If you look around, you’ll notice that our world is already filled with symbols to simplify the physical world; we can only accept that this will become a larger part of our digital world as well.

Whether you love or hate them, emoji are here to stay and their effect on language is certain to grow even further. However, we probably won’t see emoji appear in the Oxford English Dictionary anytime soon!

P.s. The answer is: Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise. The well-known proverb, popularized by Benjamin Franklin, is one you may be more familiar with in text form!

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