It's Japan, 1995. Cute and bizarre as ever. The latest craze: sending pixel-perfect hearts, an effort to make one of the shittiest points in the technology epoch, the pager, endearing. Japan loved it, and Docomo, the company who designed the app, were making it rain. But these kings-of-cute weren't just a one trick ponies, they were also developing something that resembled a useful service. It was called i-mode, and it would be the first mobile internet platform, combining e-mail, weather, news and entertainment. That's boring, thought Shigetaka Kurita, a Docomo employee, it must also be adorable! That's not actually what inspired emoji, but I hold firm that it was a leading cause. What really motivated Kurita was his concern for the breakdown of face-to-face and verbal communication resulting from the rise of new technologies. In the days before people were accustomed to masterfully weaving 140 characters to get heard, writing short succinct messages was a game of miscommunication. Intentions were so lost in translation it would make Sofia Coppola cringe.
We have an internationally standardised position in the body of codes for a smiling poop, and yet a good portion of the world still do not have the characters to write their own names
Sure, people could make emoticons (yes, there is a difference) but really, ain't nobody got time for that! \(^o^)/ (^-^)/), please. So Kurita pulled out his notebook and got busy creating tiny 12 pixel faces that would become individual characters, just like the alphabet. They would then be uploaded to devices, hopefully forever resolving the issue of sarcasm misconstrued as genuine joy. Docomo launched the first emoji set in 1999, followed shortly after by other mobile networks introducing their own more detailed ranges. This lead to a terrible crisis: the emojumble, which turned sexy winks to @&!, dispassionate disarray. Finally, folks got their shit together and began the standardisation process, and in 2010 emoji was officially adopted by the computer industry standard for encoding the worlds writing systems, Unicode Consortium.
Enter: Apple/Google/world. Apple and Google had been hovering around for a piece of the pie that was the Asian technology market, and both released emoji sets in Asia by 2008, but waited another three years to unleash this on the slightly-less-cute corner of the globe. After being faced with the outrageous boredom that is a PC interface, it was world-wide pandemojium!
The Poop Cult
Imbued with the fear of offending uptight pensioners, emojinal about the vulgarity of society (for who else could be offended by a grinning turd) Google headquarters was forced to sit down and have a long hard discussion about the future of poop. After some sticky sessions between the progressive, free thinking poopers, and the turdminators, it was decided: the poop shall be unleashed. It was a graphic/s ordeal so explosive that some guy at Google insists that designing is his life's proudest achievement. For real.
And if you're not as excited about emoji as say, The Guardian (the articles go into the double-digits) then perhaps you're not getting laid. Yes, apparently Match.com found a direct correlation between emoji use and the amount you bonk. With 'emoji' given the crown of top-trending word for 2014, these little byte size friends have embedded themselves in pop culture. A step towards the logicbased international language of the future, or maybe a backslide into the pictograms of yesteryears? Either way, I have only one word for you: Emojidick. Yes, it is as you suspect: the incarnation of the upmost anxieties surrounding prospects modern language. It is an emoji translation of Moby Dick. Not only does it exist, but it has been officially included in the Library of Congress' catalogue. The future of literature? Fuck it, emoji.
Before we jump the on the emovolution, there is still some questions about exactly how successful these thousand jaundiced but nuanced faces are at communicating. Indeed, it seems that standardisation wasn't quite the angel we had hoped for. Remember that text you sent your friend about last nights success with a sexy latino women? Well their shitty android has morphed it into a fabulous tale of realised sexuality, an emojinative coming out. The miscommunication is real. I mean how could we expect a smooth transition from subtly shaded faces, to this: the unfortunate love-child of Jabba the Hutt and Homer Simpsons thumb. Thanks Google.
Having arrived at the most chaotic stage of history, the present, we can look around us (meaning the internet, obviously) and enjoy an emoji rendition of Beyonce's 'Drunk in Love' or the seizureinciting 'emojitracker,' which logs the 250-350 emojis being uploaded on Twitter every second. Or we could simply relish the ability to send a smiling poop, which is in itself so inherently preposterous that it manages to fully communicate the absurdity of life. So what of languages deep relation to the breadth and depth of human thought, does it better.
However, sometimes we are forced to admit that perhaps emoji is not the best option for new-age communication. Like, for instance, when trying to send message about how excited you are to host your first inclusive international welcome dinner? Because, as you would have quickly realised, your iconic vocabulary is limited to these two tactful caricatures supposedly enough to represent the rest of the non-white population of the world. Hmmm... And while tech companies couldn't decide on how to animate a heart, one thing that swiftly united them was their concern for user's attention on the loaded 'r' word. (No, not ridiculous).
Last year Unicode announced that the 2015 update would include a scale of skin tone as well as an additional 250 emojis, including same sex families. These little specimens of tolerance are currently being tested by Apple users, and will be released for the public in the coming months. Progressive huh? Well while we are all revelling in our open-minded liberalism and self congratulations I'll outline another facet of this story which has received a lot less press.
So, funny story, turns out the Unicode Consortium is composed of white, predominately European or English-speaking men and women. No real surprise there. However, what does seem a bit fishy is that Unicode still haven't allotted code points (computer-speak for 'official positions') to correspond with the all the characters needed for languages such as Mandarin, Bengali, and many others language originating from, surprise surprise, the other end of the skin colour spectrum. As Aditya Mukerjee observed, we have an internationally standardised position in the body of codes for a smiling poop, and yet a good portion of the world still do not have the characters to write their own names.