In 2016, the New York Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) opened an exhibition that was built, somehow, in 1999. The Original Emoji, featured the first 176 emojis ever invented, by Japanese program producer Shigetaka Kurita.
The 1999 project was part of the efforts of Japanese telecommunications company DRCOMO – still the largest telecommunications provider in the country – to make the metaphorical language rooted in the 1990s and the first messaging conversations. The first symbols, such as “:)” instead of a smiling face, were passed on, by Kurita, into 12×12 pixel grids and converted to 176 emojis.
Those 176 real emoji include themes such as weather, travel, sports, technology, and, of course, emotions. But if you think emojis got their name from “emo” emotionally, you would be wrong – According to MoMA, “e” meant a picture, and “Moji” meant a letter.
Those early images were made in pixels, as you might expect from 1999, the same year that the original Blackberry was introduced, making it an exciting year for technological advancement. Emoji has never been about how accurate or high-resolution the solution is, but rather how you can achieve more with less. Twenty years on, it is still true that emoji admired their ability to convey emotions in different and amazing ways, left to the viewer to interpret.
While emoji are enjoying worldwide popularity after being introduced in Japan, it has taken a full decade for them to become the standard on smartphones around the world. In 2007, the iPhone launched, and soon after that, the first emoji came to IoS. There was a catch, though – only iPhones in Japan were equipped with emoji in 2008. In 2010, the characters finally entered the international arena with the help of Unicode, a technology standard that helped compile emoji text.
There were some problems. Alternatively, the first widely available set of emoji with white-skinned characters only, and while there are options for using male emoji for various characters that do the job – police officer, construction worker, etc. by the veil. Flags were representing other countries, while the vast majority were left out.
With each Unicode update, a new set of emoji comes. As they progressed, they became more and more representative of people from all walks of life. Users were quickly able to select default skin colors and adjust the skin color and tone for each feature. Same-sex couples were added, and the gun was transformed into a skirt. The rainbow flag was added, in addition to the flags of many countries that could not be released earlier.
By 2015, emoji had taken over their lives, so much so that Oxford dictionaries coined the term “tears of joy” (😂) emoji “Word of the Year.” It was probably funny to attract young people who had never heard or opened an Oxford dictionary, but the undeniable intensity behind the signs meant that student emoji respect was out of place: That same year, 92 percent of smartphone users reported using emojis regularly, a number which can only grow from then on.
These days, if the first emojis introduced in Japan were human, they could legally buy beer. There are more than 3,300 emoji in the latest version of Unicode, launched in March 2020. There is something called Emojipedia, which keeps track of the current text of emoji and their history. The President of the United States often uses emoji in tweets and will be pressured to find someone who has never been involved with the world of emoji. Let’s not forget the great impact emoji has on technology and the way we present ourselves. This simple combination of visual cues and technology has shaped the way we think and use images and pictures, and how we communicate.
Since they first became operational in the 2010s, emoji have evolved into a thousand-year-old new language character (who knew you could convey more with little food pictures?) But the predecessors of the “pictures” characters we know and use excessively today are older than you might expect.
Before emoji, there were icons, facial expressions made with punctuation marks. The first icons appeared in Puck magazine, which dates back to 1881. The magazine published four “faces” – conveying a feeling of joy, discouragement, indifference, and wonder — and described them as “the art of writing.”
They were first used as a means of conveying emotions online in 1982. When it became difficult for people to tell the difference between humor and serious posting on the Carnegie Mellon University’s digital message board, faculty member Scott Fahlman came up with the solution: Add the sign 🙂 to say the funny quote, and then mark: -, even instructing his students to “read it aloud.”
So what about emojis, small pictures that make texting so fun? That was created in 1998 by Shigetaka Kurita, engineer of the Japanese telecommunications company, NTT Docomo. He worked in such a way that customers communicated with icons. The result was a set of 176 icons called emoji. The word includes two Japanese words: “e” (photo) and “Moji” (character). Kurita claims to have inspired her emojis from fiction, Chinese characters, and international toilets.
Now, more than 1,800 emoji are available.