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< Back to question Have emojis changed the world? Show more Show less

In just two decades, emoji has become ‘the fastest growing language in history’. But are there more complex implications to their popularity? With more than 92% of internet users now using emojis, and billions used every day, do the simple digital pictograms have wider implications for society, relationships and even the way we're hardwired?

Yes, emojis have far-reaching social implications. Show more Show less

Emojis are now so ingrained in our communication, that they affect everything from the governance of society to global business strategies.
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Emojis have established a new axis of power within the Unicode Consortium

Emojis are made 'official' by being established within the Unicode. This is decided by the Unicode Consortium, a powerful committee made up of a small group of the world's most powerful tech companies.
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The Argument

Emojis have become so popular that they have found solid ground in our contemporary text language. In Silicon Valley, there is a volunteer-based nonprofit organization called the Unicode Consortium. A 2016 article by LA Times deems them “the shadowy overlords who approve emojis.” According to LA Times, while 74% of the U.S. population regularly uses emojis, most do so without knowing where these emoticons actually come from.[1] This consortium is made up of arguably powerful representatives of tech companies who choose to contribute to Unicode’s program; some are from Apple, Google, and Microsoft. LA Times is onto something with the word “overlords” seeing as the most prevailing and influential tech companies have final say over this new language the population is using.[2] A 2016 article in ABC News reported Apple’s unease over a new proposed “rifle” emoji and so the emoji was removed from the next batch. While representatives of tech companies working with the Unicode Consortium are taking the temperature of the globe to see just whether or not a particular emoticon is appropriate, useful, and has the potential to be popularly used, there is a significant amount of control the companies hold over whether or not an emoticon is passed. The article mentions that these companies are permitted to make changes to the emojis before they are released.[3] According to a Wired article, while the Unicode Consortium claims to make every effort to ensure the approved emoticons are relevant and to make their process public, the very questions they use to review a new emoji is questionable. Wired reports that one of the questions is, “Is there substantial evidence that a large number of people will likely use this new emoji?” Wired points out that there is no definition of “substantial evidence” and that there are a myriad of emoji characters that few people have ever used. They also ask that anyone proposing a new emoticon provide a screen shot of the number of search results that appear on Google when this particular concept is entered in the search bar. Wired, however, questions the effectiveness of this; “do people really make websites about the same sorts of things they use emoji for?” One wonders how this powerful group is determining the kinds of characters deemed worthy to include in our textual communication.[4]

Counter arguments

If Unicode Consortium is as powerful as they are suspected to be, they still have the best intention at heart: that of connecting the globe by empowering “digitally disadvantaged” languages and ensuring that all have the opportunity to communicate in their own language should they choose to.[5] In an interview with Mark Davis (co-founder and president of Unicode Consortium, and software engineer at Google) for Time, the nonprofit’s emoji selection process is quite public. And that’s not their main project anyway. According to Davis, the consortium’s founding goal is to “[standardize] digital text exchanges across different computer software in hundreds of different languages.” He noticed that systems of encoding characters in different countries were inconsistent with each other and he set out to find a way to get these systems to talk to each other. Davis’ priority is for everyone to be able to text in their own language and have their device understand it.[5] Their emoji process seems both democratic and strict. According to Davis, anyone can submit a new emoji idea by filling out a form. Davis explains that there is a “public review,” so others can feedback their own opinions on the emoticon. However, the process of approving an emoji is a thoughtful one, and the information on the submission form needs to explain in detail why this image is important for the emoticon language; it needs to be specific and relevant to the population. Davis is interested in giving the power to the people, it seems, and allowing them to create their own new universal language.[5]

Premises

[P1] The world's most powerful companies exert control over the way individuals all over the world communicate with each other.

Rejecting the premises

[Rejecting P1] Emojis are regulated, but so is language. Having 'official' emojis is necessary for standardizing this form of communication.

References

  1. https://www.latimes.com/business/technology/la-fi-tn-emoji-q-and-a-20160125-htmlstory.html
  2. https://home.unicode.org/unicode-consortium-announces-new-additions-to-leadership-team/
  3. https://abcnews.go.com/Technology/rifle-emoji-deleted-pressure-tech-companies/story?id=39987835
  4. https://www.wired.com/story/why-unicode-keeps-adding-boring-emoji/
  5. https://time.com/4244795/emoji-consortium-mark-davis/

This page was last edited on Thursday, 25 Jun 2020 at 21:17 UTC

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