Every generation has its own lingo and communication systems that make it unique with respect to its predecessors. The technological revolution and early immersion of children into the world of tech have a lot to do with this: this explains, for instance, our already-internalized “text speak.” Based on the mass use of IM apps, so-called emojis are the new revolution in digital language, the logical evolution and globalization of the ASCII emoticons we’ve been using all our lives. We use emoticons daily on our smartphones, but did you know where they come from or how they came to be globally standard?
Where do they come from?
Etymologically, the word emoticon is a neologism made up of the words emotion and icon, leaving the word’s intended meaning quite clear. While its origin and current conception are related to their use in the tech world, it’s possible to find much older references from before the digital era, such as the one discovered in the satiric magazine Puck, which in 1881 published a series of typographic character combinations to represent different moods.
Nevertheless, the first real reference aiming to standardize and regulate the use of emoticons in a particular sphere of digital communication was the one done by the renowned researcher Scott Fahlman, who in 1982 sent a message to his colleagues via Carnegie Mellon University’s BBS in which the vertical smiley :-) and :-( appeared for the first time.
Emoticons vs Emoji
It was in Japan that, among the many ASCII-code derivatives to represent emotions, the so-called kaomoji were created in the mid-90s, with the distinctive feature of being represented horizontally without having to turn them to view the result. To give a few explanatory examples: (づ｡◕‿‿◕｡)づ -╭( •̀•́ )╮- (✿◠‿◠) – ლ(❤ʚ❤ლ) – (ノಠ益ಠ)ノCool, right?
In the beginning, emoticons were created based on characters, but at the end of the 90s graphic equivalents in the form of small icons began to be used to represent all sorts of elements beyond different mood faces. NTT Docomo, Japan’s largest mobile service provider, was the first to integrate it in its services, but it wasn’t until 2007 that these icons were introduced in Unicode standard so they could be used on any system capable of reading it. In other words, emojis—despite the fact that we see them as small images—are actually characters with their own coding and are represented differently depending on the software where they are displayed. Thus the same emoticon looks different on an iPhone, an Android device, or the Google messaging tool.
The most used emojis
The use of abbreviated terms in texts and later the smartphone communications boom has led to an ever-increasing need for emoticons to express emotions quickly, to the point of directly replacing the written expression with the picture in question. The top niche of mobile-focused developers are aware of this need, and thus Apple and Android made their systems compatible with the standard even before they were integrated into Unicode.
Matthew Rothenberg created some while ago a system to count the number of times each emoji is used on Twitter, capturing the results in a dynamic, constantly updating ranking where you can see the ones most frequently used. Seeing on this page how massively they are published in real time gives us an idea of the importance of this system of communication in the modern day. (Here’s the full ranking.)
How does the brain react to an emoticon?
Emojis have reached such a degree of integration in our daily lives that our brains have adapted to their use in ways that’s we’re not even aware of. Psycologists from Flinders University in Australia have published a study in which they have measured the cerebral activity of a group of students viewing emoticons written by their friends in messages sent to them and comparing them with the reaction to seeing the sender’s actual face. The result was illuminating: The effect in both cases is practically the same, meaning that in practice we’re associating these digital characters with the emotional expression they’re trying to transmit.
250 new emojis to arrive this summer
While more than 700 emojis already exist with their own Unicode numbers, the list is about to be expanded to many more with the launch of the 7.0.0 version of the standard, which will be available in coming weeks as Apple, Google, and Microsoft integrate the support in their software.
The list swaps in new images for some of the existing ones and adds many new elements. In the (attention) list on Emojipedia you can consult and even view them in certain cases, although they won’t be available until mid-July.