July 17, 2017

Quickly now. Open your emoji keyboard and find the symbol for calendar. Chances are, it will show July 17, the date on which Apple unveiled the iCal calendar app in 2002. This date has been adopted by most other software platforms too, and when Jeremy Burge, founder of Emojipedia, a database of emojis on the internet, wanted to choose one day to celebrate emojis, he zeroed in on this.

Welcome to World Emoji Day – when internet geeks world over unite to celebrate their favourite emojis through anthems, social media promotions and emoji themed fancy dress parties.

 

The popularity of emojis have mostly been attributed to their universality. Transcending multiple languages, these symbols depict a range of moods more expressively than words. According to a study by University of Michigan, 😂 is the most popular emoji in the world, except in France, where, true to stereotype, the ❤️ rules. The French also use emoji the most, followed by Russians and Americans.

An amalgamation of the Japanese words e (picture) and moji (character), these quirky symbols were created by Shigetaka Kurita 


Shigetaka Kurita, the creator of the emoji. Image credit: The Guardian

for Nippon Telegraph & Telephone in 1999. NTT’s mobile internet service limited its users to 250 characters in an email. The pixelated symbols helped people express themselves better, and quickly became a raging success, which continued even after text limits were relaxed. The power of these symbols was recently acknowledged by New York’s Museum of Modern Art, which acquired for its permanent collection the original 176 emojis created by Kurita for NTT.

Emojis were so popular that in 2007 when Apple launched the first iPhone, it had to include an emoji keyboard to break into the Japanese market. Tech savvy users in the US clamoured for their own emojis and by 2010, emojis were being encoded in Unicode, the global standard for indexing characters, making them available worldwide. From 176 monochromatic symbols in 1999, there are 2,666 emojis today, expressing everything from 😃(joy) to 🤦‍♀️(incredulous disbelief) in full colour.


The emoji exhibit at MoMa. Image credit: MoMA

Emojis have been centre of much debate and the updates have been topical –from showing same sex couples to depict a family  (👨‍👨‍👧‍👧)and racially diverse skin tones (👧 👧🏽 👧🏿) to a rainbow flag emoji to celebrate diversity (🏳️‍🌈). But the novelty of an emoji is not in the image, it is in what the image conveys and how they are deployed.

A mix of emoticons (symbols which express emotions) and ideograms (symbols which express an idea, through pictorial resemblance or otherwise), emojis are a fluid communication platform with no constraints of grammar and no well-defined rules, yet. What can mean ‘high five’ to one person could mean ‘hands joined in prayer’ to another 🙏.   

Text by Subhalakshmi Roy, The Good City