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Wednesday, December 01, 2021

=^.^=

As communication reverts from text to image, the urge to depict emotions accurately brings diversity to emojis.

By: Editorial |
Updated: February 9, 2019 12:12:31 am
As emojis swept the West, skin colour became an issue. You can’t have white hands slow-clapping when you’re black. Gender sensitivities followed, and now we’re ready for the next update.

In case you came to the internet party late, the headline of this editorial is one of the world’s oldest emoticons, depicting a cool cat. Please take a moment to admire the laid-back ASCII whiskers, made of = signs, and the supercilious gaze, depicted by carets. The same cat after a long day at the keyboard would look totally bushed, like this: =+.+=

Back when the net was young, there were no pretty pictures, and people communicated only in text. Humans like to chat, rather than merely communicate, and electronic bulletin boards and Usenet were created to make it possible. But humans are visual first rather than textual (think of Lascaux and Bhimbetka), and so they made pictures out of ASCII text to convey their state of mind. Simple pictures like ;-) smileys, and images like the famous “cow that drank Jolt”, which is too absurdly complex to print here. In terms of communications efficiency, each was worth a thousand words. But for the Japanese, one of the world’s most visual cultures — and also among the most communicative — this was not enough. They introduced colour images as fonts to mobile phones in 1997, and the world of internet communications changed forever. Emojis pervaded global culture and in 2015, the Oxford Dictionaries chose the Face with Tears of Joy emoji as its Word of the Year.

As emojis swept the West, skin colour became an issue. You can’t have white hands slow-clapping when you’re black. Gender sensitivities followed, and now we’re ready for the next update. On cue, the Unicode Consortium, which keeps the world’s keyboards in line, has released a set of 59 new emojis focused on inclusivity. They include wheelchairs, interracial couples and, mysteriously, a one-piece swimsuit. Now, we can spend the coming years arguing about why it’s teal and not magenta. =^.^=

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