How Emoji Have Changed the Way We Communicate

A picture is worth a thousand words

Key Takeaways

  • The eighth annual World Emoji Day is Saturday, July 17.
  • Experts say emoji use has almost doubled in recent years and changes meaning the same way regular slang does. 
  • The future of emoji could be a better way to discover and use the lesser-known emoji on our keyboards.
Closeup of someone texting using Emoji.

Artur Debat / Getty Images

Emoji have come a long way from the early days of the internet to being embedded in our phones' keyboards and culture. 

World Emoji Day is Saturday, July 17 📅 (the date that appears on the calendar emoji), and we’ve come a long way in our emoji use over the years. These digital characters have become a part of our daily lives and have a critical role in how we communicate with friends, family, and strangers over the internet, and even in the professional space. 

"Emoji are invaluable intrinsic elements of our digital communications," Keith Broni, the deputy emoji officer at Emojipedia, told Lifewire over a call. "They are enabling us to add semantic information back into digital messaging."

Emoji In Everyday Language 

With 3,521 emoji available in the form of symbols, flags, travel and places, food and drink, smileys and people, and more, Broni said emoji use is at an all-time high globally 🙌. 

"Comparing where we are to where we were back in 2015, our emoji usage has increased by roughly 40%," he said. 

Using emoji has become a cornerstone to our communication methods and how we convey a message and sense of emotion to others.

"Provided people are still communicating using digital text, emoji are here to stay."

According to Adobe’s 2021 Global Emoji Trend Report from this week, 67% of global emoji users think people who use emoji are friendlier and funnier than those who don’t 😎. In addition, 76% of global emoji users agree that emojis are an essential communication tool for creating unity, respect, and understanding 🤝.

Broni said what’s interesting about emoji is that, just like with slang, emoji use and their meanings change based on generational or cultural trends. 

"Emoji ebb and flow in a very similar fashion to how slang operates and can be reappropriated at any one time by a particular demographic group," he said. "That demographic group can be based around age, culture, race, but it can also be based around fandoms of certain pop culture properties."

Even with the intention to create a sense of your emotional state to the receiver of your message, the intended meanings of emoji also have changed over time to become more sarcastic or ironic. 

"For example, we’ve seen the emoji referred to as the loudly crying face [😭]—that face with the huge melodramatic tears streaming down his face—be used not to convey sadness of any kind, but rather to convey amusement or hilarity," Broni said. 

Perhaps most importantly, emoji have reflected current events so people across the globe understand what’s being conveyed even with language barriers. Some examples of this are the ✊ emoji that hit an all-time high in June last year and the syringe emoji that received an update in iOS 14.5 from having blood in it 💉 to containing a nondescript liquid to reflect vaccines.

Closeup of a text message that includes emoji.

Chesnot / Getty Images

Emoji also have prioritized inclusion in recent years in the form of more diversified emoji, whether that be the addition of the transgender flag 🏳️‍⚧️ or breaking down barriers of what a family looks like 👨‍👨‍👧. 

The Future of Emoji

Broni said we would continue to use emoji in our everyday and even professional communication, but the way we use them could get an upgrade 🤔. 

"Is the current keyboard layout the best route through which we can access these images? Is there a better means out there that we can try and access the huge span of these characters on our keyboards?" he said. 

Because the most popular emoji are the smiling facial expressions, they are the first that are presented to us on the keyboard. Still, there are plenty of other emoji available at our disposal that don't necessarily get the love they deserve ❤️. 

"I think it's worth exploring whether or not we can offer a broader palette in an easier fashion, that will increase [lesser-used emoji] usage even further," Broni said. 

Broni added that the Unicode Consortium, the organization that approves new emoji, is slowing down the number of new emoji being added, so the future of emoji could be championing the ones that we already have. 

Whether or not the 🧶 emoji or the 🦔 emoji gets its time to shine, Broni said we’ll still be using emoji to communicate our emotions in the digital age.

"Provided people are still communicating using digital text, emoji are here to stay," he said.

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