In what will be remembered as the greatest prank in the history of cinema, the Emoji Movie became last month the first film in 35 years to be publicly screened in Saudi Arabia. My initial reaction was along the lines of “women driving? movie theatres opening up? Sounds like Saudi Arabia is finally entering the 1920s”. Once I was done with my tight 5, I realised it was about time I understood emojis’ deal. Below is a plethora of interesting views on the matter.

What’s the latest in emoji news?
Same old, same old: the world is on fire and nobody can agree on anything. A few weeks ago, the Unicode Technical Committee (the body that has final say over which emoji are added to the Unicode Standard, and thus, your phone keyboard), released Emoji 11.0, which is the most current approved emoji list. Notable inclusions in this release include redheads, curly hair (WOO!), superheroes, a softball, skateboard, lobster and bagel. That release was apparently a bad idea, and made a lot of people angry. These yellow bast*rds simply have a talent to make “journalists” frothy. Examples below:

OK. Who do I blame?
We have a smiling pile of poop. What about one that’s sad? There’s loaf of bread and a croissant. But where’s the sliced bagel? How can our emotional vocabulary be complete without a teddy bear, a lobster, a petri dish or a tooth? These are the questions that matter!

Turn out, anyone can propose an emoji. But for it to make it to phones and computers, it has to be approved by Unicode, which was mentioned above. The nonprofit group, mostly made up of people from large tech companies like Apple, Google and Facebook, translates emoji into one standard, so that a person in France, for example, can send an emoji or a text message to a person in the U.S. and it will look the same, no matter what brand of phone or operating system they use.

However, adding new emoji to the permanent collection every year is challenging. Sure, sifting through all the proposals submitted is mostly just time consuming, but making those final cuts is really the hardest part. It’s easy enough to approve one new emoji: here’s a cow because there’s already a goat. It’s fairly self-contained. However, when you talk about race, gender and hair colors, it means there could be thousands more possibilities. And then you think about what happens when you include them in the family combinations, and suddenly you get hundreds of thousands of combinations.

Got it. Emoji hard. Emoticon good?
First impressions are heavily influenced by emotional expressions such as smiles. In face-to-face contact, smiling individuals are perceived as warmer and as more competent than non-smiling individuals. In computer-mediated communication, which is primarily text-based, ☺or :) or :-) constitutes the digital representation of a smile. But is a smiley a suitable replacement for a smile?

Short answer? No. according to three experiments with 549 people from 29 countries, reading a happy face in the text of a work email made people think that the sender was less competent if the same message did not contain the emoticon. Furthermore, even though smiles communicate warmth and competence in person, a smiley could make the reader less likely to share as much information in their reply. So lay off the :p, junior.


Coffee break’s over. Conclude.
For better or worse, our expending technological capabilities have given us an emoji movie, emoji short story contests and books written in emoji. In 2015, Oxford Dictionaries declared the “face with tears of joy” emoji its word of the year. New York’s Museum of Modern art has added the original emoji set to its permanent collection. Apple’s pricey iPhone X lets you send animojis, animated emojis that mimic your facial expressions and speak in your voice… the list goes on.

The moral of the story is the same as it has been every week since the dawn of The Pourquoi Pas: it’s complicated. Everyone should feel included and express their feelings freely but that is near impossible to achieve. So we deal with this smaller issue in the same way that we deal with the larger ones: a little bit of work at a time, 2 steps forward then 1 step back. At the end of the day, what matters is that we’ve moved forward.

Join a movement

This article was originally made for The Pourquoi Pas, an online magazine providing in-depth analyses of today’s technological challenges.

Strategy Consultant | Tech writer | Somewhat French