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Are emojis a detriment or an enhancement to communication?

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Emoji art. (Stuart Rankin/Flickr)

Apple recently released the iOS 9.1 update, including 184 new emojis. There are now over 800 emojis available on the iOS international keyboard operated by the Unicode Consortium. The nonprofit enables people internationally to use computers in any language, essentially acting as the IPO for natural language processing.

Since their introduction in October 2011, emojis have rapidly infiltrated modern day communication on an international level. Every major news outlet from Teen Vogue to the New York Times and BBC all have something to say about these characters. Some even ask if emojis are becoming a new language. One thing is clear: emojis have transcended their pictorial meaning.

“We’re honored to be welcomed and included with this unique group of individuals responsible for the emoji and internationalization standards that are so vital to the community,” Rick Moby, founder of emojis, said in a Unicode report on Sept. 15.

Vital may seem like a strong word, but there’s an undeniable enticement to these symbols and characters. Emojis have a certain linguistic code that is both arbitrary yet universal, and the result is that their meanings are ever-changing. Legitimate jobs such as “emoji grammarian” and “emojineering” are being created and devoted to studying emojis as if they were a newly-discovered bacteria.

“Yet emojis, however inelegant as they may seem, have become a language of their own, a way to transcend the limits of one’s native tongue to communicate with others worldwide,” New York Times blogger Mike Isaac said in a May post.

According to an April report from SwiftKey that analyzed over one billion pieces of emoji data, “faces” accounted for nearly 60 percent of all emojis sent. Americans were found to have the highest concentrations of skulls, fire, meat, LGBT and female-oriented emoji. Russian speakers use three times more romantic emojis than the international average and Arabic speakers used four times more plant related emoji than other languages.

Emojis are being used beyond mere texting and are now utilized in the realms of politics, art, social campaigns, room service at hotels, banking and even therapy.

“Emojis are really forward with culture right now,” said UMass sophomore Sanjana Kadirvel, who noted that she uses emojis after nearly all of her contacts and her texts.

Emojis could possibly be the replacement for numerical pin codes. In an article for the Huffington Post, British software company Intelligent Environments said human brains naturally remember pictures better than numbers. Because the number of emojis outweigh the letters in the English alphabet by nearly 32 times, there would be access to over three million possible pins rather than the 7,290 currently.

Emojis have even scratched the surface of the hospitality world and are now being used in Aloft Hotels in downtown Manhattan. Guests can text a simple strand of emojis to the front desk depending on what they need. This could include room service, cancelling a wake-up call or requesting more alcohol. If this catches on as fast as the emoji itself, it could help appease the language barrier in international traveling.

If money and people are involved, politics will naturally follow suit. Hilary Clinton’s presidential campaign was given flair when Vivian Rosenthal, a fan of the former secretary of state, invented the “HillMoji” keyboard. Cartoon-like renditions of Clinton in pantsuits and sunglasses can be sent over a messaging platform called Snaps.

Across the globe, Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop was put in hot water for using the red-faced angry emoji in regards to Russian President Vladimir Putin. What is vastly more shocking than attempting to decipher the intent behind Bishop’s message is the fact that she had an all-emoji interview with Buzzfeed. Bishop is said to be an avid emoji user and engage in “emoji diplomacy.”

Emojis may be used to solve foreign affairs as well as helping abused children give voice to their feelings. A Swedish children’s charity, BRIS, has developed “Abused Emojis,” a free app to help young children who are struggling to communicate their oppressive situations. Some emojis on the app include a frightened monkey covering its eyes and a sad face with a bruised eye and tear drop.

A spokesperson for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (an organization in the United Kingdom similar to BRIS) said, “Emojis have become a huge part of young people’s lives and a popular way for young people to quickly express their feelings. When young people struggle to find the right words to express themselves an emoji may help bridge that gap, or even be a first step to talking about their problems.”

UMass graduate student Lucy Wackman echoed this opinion. Having recently downgraded from her iPhone 5 to an iPhone 3, she is finding the transition hard since she can’t use emojis on the older phone.

“Using only words doesn’t get you very far,” she said. “People can express themselves better when there are more options.”

Rapper Yung Jake has pioneered emoji art by creating profiles of celebrities like Miley Cyrus, Kim Kardashian and Jerry Seinfeld entirely from the characters. These obscure mosaics could potentially make him the first public emoji artist.

One of the 184 new emojis potentially featured in Jake’s work is an enigmatic black speech bubble with an eyeball inside of it. The formal name for the emoji is the “eye-in-speech-bubble.” It is representative of the “I Am a Witness” campaign against cyber-bullying, as the first emoji specifically made for a social cause.

“Everyone is using emoji, so it may be a gateway to open up a new way of communication about cyberbullying,” psychologist Kortney Peargram said in an Oct. 23 article for NPR.

Before smartphone users even have the chance to bask in using the unicorn, taco and middle finger emojis, there is already talk of 67 new characters to debut in June 2016. Those are said to include a pregnant woman, an avocado, a rifle, a clown, a shark and many sport-related characters to coincide with the summer Olympics.

There’s already speculation over the rifle emoji being offensive, just as the iOS 8.3 update received backlash at its attempt to be more racially inclusive. Criticism aside, emojis can’t be contained. What were once mere side dishes to words may have the potential to become the main course.

Erica Garnett can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @GarnettErica.

1 Comment

One Response to “Are emojis a detriment or an enhancement to communication?”

  1. Rob on November 5th, 2015 10:08 am

    This is ridiculous. They’re just cute little pictures. Nothing more, nothing less. I wouldn’t count on the real world giving up on English any time soon.

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