Where did emoji come from? Why did they seem to suddenly become ubiquitous? Are they here to stay? Should you or should you not use them in sexts?
Those aren’t especially profound or difficult questions, but there’s been no handy way to find the answers all in one place — until now, with the publication of Gavin Lucas’s compact hardcover The Story of Emoji. I’ll now proceed to cut into his sales by giving you the short answers, as gleaned from the book.
Where did emoji come from?
Lucas delves into the prehistory of emoji, going all the way back to the first — probably accidental — emoticon, in a 1648 poem by Robert Herrick. Emoticons (combinations of punctuation that resemble faces) were in common use online by 1999, when Japanese service provider NTT Docomo made a set of 176 one-character pictures available for use on phones and pagers. Others followed suit, and six years later Japanese carriers agreed on a coordinated set of emoji that could be used across platforms.
Why did they seem to suddenly become ubiquitous?
The tipping point probably came in 2011, when Apple included an emoji keyboard in the latest version of their iOS. Suddenly, everyone with an iPhone had access to emoji without having to download a separate keyboard, and they started popping up in any kind of content — text messages, Instagram captions, e-mails — commonly created on smartphones. At that point, if your platform didn’t support emoji, you were history.
Are they here to stay?
No doubt. As Lucas points out, emoji function in a similar manner to Japanese kanji: single characters that carry dense clusters of meaning, varying by context. Kanji, and similar characters in Chinese and other related languages, have been around for thousands of years, and for good reason. In the online era, emoji are so useful that they seem unlikely to disappear in the foreseeable future.
Should you or should you not use them in sexts?
Apparently, yes. Lucas cites a study suggesting that emoji users are two-thirds more likely to be getting laid than those who don’t use emoji — although whether you want to use the eggplant emoji in your sexts, he notes, varies depending on what your operating system is. (Apple’s eggplant looks unmistakably like a peen; Microsoft’s does not.)
So there are the basics — but there are plenty more reasons to pick up Lucas’s book. There’s more historical detail (dingbats!); there are some nifty graphics (one comparing emoji across platforms is particularly engrossing); and there are illustrated descriptions of a bunch of art and design projects inspired by emoji. As a quick read and a coffee-table conversation piece for yourself or your favorite emoji fan, The Story of Emoji is 💯.