Representation is trendy
Have emoji language evolved, flattened, or increased? Or wait – are they your own language or an extension of our existing one?
While ’emoji’ is by definition the combination of two Japanese words: e, ‘picture’ and moji, ‘character’, they serve as a substitute for words (🏡 = a house) and as an extension of the expression (💀 = I. am dead before Laughter or shock). Are emoji pictograms or gestures? Both. However, their real worth is derived from the latter.
Vyvyan Evans, PhD, Digital Communication Expert and Author of Emoji Code: The Linguistics Behind Smiley Faces and Scared Cats, explains: “In the spoken medium, gesture, facial expression, body language and intonation provide a means of qualifying and adapting the message conveyed through conveying the words that we pronounce. “In other words, a grin, rolled eyes, crossed arms or jazz hands overlay critical nuances, enrich what is said and provide more information for interpretation. This data is not secondary to the message, in many cases it is the message itself.
In one estimate, 30-35% of meanings derived from daily social interactions come from language, while nearly 70% come from non-verbal – especially visual – cues. Coincidentally, another study found that 70% of emoji use was directly related to emotional expression.
Emoji provide missing nuances for digital communication, where tweets have character restrictions and facial expressions, posture and closeness are often hidden behind screens. “Digital text alone is impoverished and at times emotionally dry,” says Evans. And given their similarity to punctuation, “Emoji today is undeniably the world’s first truly universal form of communication”.
While emoji are primarily used as supplemental personal details in sterile, digital formats that are subtle, they are inherently static and standardized. While emoji grows slowly, it is made up of a set number of characters. While Apple and Twitter each have their own styles, these platforms are committed to the Unicode Consortium, which dictates which emoji get on your keyboard. There is mounting tension in a tool for expanding expression in the face of this narrow oversight.
Which one are you?
In a new study by Adobe that surveyed thousands of emoji users around the world, only half (54%) believe that their identity is adequately reflected in the current emoji options. Additionally, the majority (83%) agree that emoji should continue to seek broader user representation. Unsurprisingly, that feeling is powered by Gen Z and Millennials, who rely on emoji to convey what they think.
When emoji are used to share our non-verbal feeling, they should embody the “speaker” and reflect who is communicating. Adaptation is a solution – an approach we have already made progress on. In 2015, the Unicode Consortium introduced skin tone modifiers. However, it was quickly discovered that these five options were still too limiting. Since then, hairstyles and hair color modifiers have been introduced, along with non-binary emoji in 2019. There is room to grow there too.
Because emoji are inherently tied to personal identity – I’ll give you a thumbs up or a shrug – the more accurately they represent us, the more effective they ultimately are. 79 percent of Gen Z are currently customizing their emoji, and 74 percent would like more customization options to better reflect themselves. One driver here may be that Gen Z values the fluidity of their identity and restricts widely used, fixed options like emoji. Apple’s Memoji and Snap’s Bitmoji are alternatives, but they’re not as mobile as Emoji on different platforms.
A question asked here is, will emoji ever be inclusive and accurate enough? We can keep requesting adjustments until it’s literally just us. If one advantage of emoji is its simplicity, adding limitless microscopic iterations goes against its abbreviation. The emoji search is tedious enough as it is. How much can we ask of emoji?
However, there is still progress today.
Seeing yourself in today’s means of expression determines your success
With their findings, Adobe has entered into a partnership with Emojination, a young grassroots organization whose motto is “Emoji from the people for the people”. The nonprofit is designed to help emoji seekers navigate the difficult Unicode approval process and introduce more representative emoji around the world. To date, Emojination has successfully directed over 100 emoji suggestions, including interracial couples, hijab, piñata, dumplings, and tamale.
When it comes to the rising demand for personalization, “I think people try to say the word ‘me,’ which is hard to say in emoji,” said Jennifer 8. Lee, co-founder of Emojination. “We think it’s important to have the voice of the people on big tech issues when it comes to setting guidelines.”
However, this voice goes beyond the depiction of cute pictograms. Lee continues, “Emoji is just something ordinary people can get excited about, but we really could have their voice on questions about privacy, harmful content moderation, work, and government regulations. I think we provide a good model for people who can play an interface between companies and ordinary people who are passionate about developing guidelines or standards. “
The creation of emoji and human-powered policy reform are not mutually exclusive. It was also found that 70% of emoji users believe that inclusive emoji can help create positive conversations about important cultural and social issues.
Adobe research supports the fact that we want to be represented in our everyday means of expression. But bigger, we want to be represented in the bigger narratives and decision-making processes of the systems in which we live. If only there was an emoji expressing that feeling.