For our next Harvard Hero Moment, Iโ€™m arguing the use of emoji has transformed the way we communicate with each other.

The simple images that accompany our text-based messages have morphed into a cultural phenomenon, giving rise to the fastest growing visual language in the world, one which transcends borders and tongues.

The Japanese term โ€œemojiโ€ translates as (็ตต, “picture”) + moji (ๆ–‡ๅญ—, “character”) โ€“ and can be used to describe the whole practice of sending these delightful icons.

I find our use of emoji in the context of language fascinating. While it can be argued it isnโ€™t strictly a language, I love that weโ€™ve effectively gone back to painting shapes on stone walls in a digital form.

Emoji allows a visually expressive way to communicate, letting you add context, emotion, and sentiment with ease. Using certain emoji within a sentence can transform its meaning. The insertion of a winking face ๐Ÿ˜‰ / crying with laughter face ๐Ÿ˜‚ / or aubergine ๐Ÿ† at the end of a given sentence gives you very different things.ย  ๐Ÿ‘€

Used by an estimated 92% of the worldโ€™s online population, marketers and communicators have embraced this new medium. Furthermore, according to Adobeโ€™s 2019 Emoji Trend report more than half of emoji users are more likely to engage with brands that use emoji in their posts.

A brief history of emoji ๐Ÿ“œ ๐Ÿบ ๐Ÿค 

Emoticons โ€“ the pre-cursor to emoji โ€“ first appeared in Puck magazine as โ€˜typographical artโ€™ back in 1881.

It took more than hundred years before they would re-emerge when emoticon use became prevalent in online forums and chatrooms, harking back to the early days of the internet.

But when working with just punctuation, things are a bit moreโ€ฆlimited.ย  ยฏ\_(ใƒ„)_/ยฏ

It wasnโ€™t until 1998 when the first set of 176 emoji were created by engineer Shigetaka Kurita โ€“ as Japanese phone company NTT Docomo looked for new ways for customers to communicate visually.

Emoji was a hit in Japan, and the big tech players saw an opportunity. In 2007 Google petitioned the Unicode Consortium (the international non-profit group which maintains text standards across computers) to get emoji officially recognised.

A proposal to adopt 625 emoji into Unicode was accepted in 2010 โ€“ a move which would soon make them accessible everywhere.

Fun fact: today the Unicode Emoji Subcommittee decides which new emoji we get in every update โ€“ and members of the public can submit their ideas for consideration.

An emoji abundance in the modern-day digital lexicon ๐ŸŒŠ๐Ÿ™ˆ๐Ÿ˜

Weโ€™ve seen emoji used in statements from the White House, you can order a Dominoes by sending a pizza ๐Ÿ• on Facebook Messenger, and โ€œemojiโ€ was declared as โ€˜Word of the yearโ€™ by Oxford Dictionary in 2015.

After conquering the world, emoji needs to constantly evolve over screen sizes and different cultures, if itโ€™s to be accessible to all internet users. So with that in mind expect to see greater representation of diversity, plus probably even more of your favourite foodstuffs.

From such humble beginnings, itโ€™s undeniable emoji has transformed the way we interact with each other. ๐Ÿคœ ๐ŸŽค โฌ‡๏ธ

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