I was having an instant messenger conversation with a couple of my developer coworkers the other day. One of them asked if I recognized a chunk of code from a project I’d worked on a while back. He pasted the block of code into the messenger window and clicked send. What I got was a flurry of smiley cartoon faces, flapping birds, and envelopes disgorging their contents onto the screen. In other words, Emoji. Welcome to the new web.
For us mere mortals, emoji are basically smiley faces; they are small animated images we can use in text messages and email to add emotions. The humble semicolon and close-parentheses become a winking face. 😉 Slightly more complicated symbols get transformed into hearts or dancers. Think emoticons++. On the surface it seems cute and trite. But to many users, emoji have become much more than decorations: they add emotions and context to an otherwise flat text message.
Apple recently announced they have expanded their emoji collection to be more racially diverse. Not only does that make sense, given that smart phone use is exploding in developing countries, but it also shows that the practice of adding context-invoking pictures to a message is becoming mainstream practice.
Furthermore, what differentiates emoji from emoticons is that emoji are actually part of the character set on a computer. I’ll say that again, they are part of the machine.
I joked with my coworkers that I was going to invent a programming language that was all emoji and emoticons. They yelled at me. I kept at it long enough until they laughed. But the truth is the way we communicate via text is changing more rapidly now than it has since the days of Gutenberg. It’s impacting formal writing in college classrooms and will eventually infiltrate business documents. For some this sounds sacrilegious, others don’t view it so negatively.
Have you seen more emoticons and emoji appearing in your communication? Where do you think it’s going?