Humans always want to do things differently and easily. We say that fashions come back in circles every 30 years! But pictorial writing took a few thousand years to come back! Are humans lazy or innovative? From pre-historical days, we’ve learned to talk, we’ve learned to write, but we’re only now learning to write at the speed of talking (i.e., text), sending messages. If you are talking to someone face-to-face, you don’t need an additional word or symbol to express “I’m smiling” because you would be smiling. Research determined way back in the 1950s that only 7 per cent of communication is verbal (what we say), while 38 per cent is vocal (how we say it) and 55 per cent is nonverbal (what we do and how we look while we’re saying it). This is good for face-to-face communication, but when we’re texting/WApping, the hypothesis goes for a toss. 93 per cent of our communicative tools are out of the picture.
In came Emojis! Emojis were born from the mind of a single man: Shigetaka Kurita, an employee at the Japanese telecom company NTT Docomo. Back in the late 1990s, the company was looking for a way to distinguish its pager service from its competitors in a very tight market. Kurita hit on the idea of adding simplistic cartoon images to its messaging functions as a way to appeal to teens. The emoji means, “picture words”—were designed by Kurita, using a pencil and paper, and were inspired by pictorial Japanese sources, like Manga (Japanese comic books) and Kanji (Japanese characters borrowed from written Chinese). I always had this feeling that Emojis show a feel of Japanese/Chinese characters and now I have come to know that I was not wrong.
These 176, initial crude symbols became very popular and Japanese Telecom adopted them. These were used only in Japan. Apple put these characters in iPhone in 2007 for phones to be sold in Japan; it was meant for Japanese youth and was hidden deep down in software layers. But tech-savvy users in the US found these Emojis and then it was only a question of high-speed proliferation. Now even people above 80 are using WhatsApp and use Emojis very comfortably. In a survey in 2013, it was found that 73% of people in the USA and 82% of people in China were using Emojis in their communications. There is one interesting thing I have observed about Emojis. Since the faces shown in them are basically based on comic books, there is hardly any angry Emoji! Using Emojis, people can love, feel sad, feel elated but it becomes difficult to hate or feel angry using Emojis!
The meaning of Emojis interpreted in different areas of the world are flexible and that is the real beauty of it. 🙏🙏 is an Emoji that is interpreted as Namaskar (Hindu Greeting) in our part of the world. But in the western world, it is interpreted as High Five! If one needs to discuss or comment on something serious, the best solution is face to face talk, next best is Emojis and third place goes to the written text. These not very professional looking cartoons are instantly recognizable, which makes them understandable even across linguistic barriers. Yet the implications of emoji—their secret meanings—are constantly in flux, they keep on changing. The written language is often clumsy or awkward or problematic, for personal communications, especially when it’s sent using tiny screens, tapped out in real time.
The beginning of writing started with pictorial drawing and their interpretation. First written symbols that began in our lives are pictures. Pictograms—i.e. pictures of actual things, like a drawing of the sun—were the very first elements of written communication, found in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and China. From pictograms, which are literal representations, we moved to logograms, which are symbols that stand in for a word ($, for example) and ideograms, which are pictures or symbols that represent an idea or abstract concept. Modern examples of ideograms include the person-in-a-wheelchair symbol that universally communicates accessibility and the red-hand symbol at a pedestrian crossing that signals not “red hand” but “stops.”
One thing is sure that pictures, emojis have a definite advantage over written communication. I will tell you how I got confused in Germany, way back in 1984. I had gone to West Germany of those times. I was travelling back to the place of my stay in a small town called Menden, using the train system. I was required to change the trains at a couple of places. I saw one railway employee with a tag, “Information”. I was happy, finally, I found someone speaking English! I went to the railway employee to seek the directions. Later I came to know that Information in German is pronounced as, Informatsionen! The person said, “Ich spreche kein Englisch”, which I assumed as “I don’t speak English” He held my hand, took me to the correct platform and pointed to me the direction! No Emojis!
The Joy Emoji shown above, is referred to as “Face With Tears of Joy” or “the LOL Emoji” (Emojis don’t have official names, just nicknames created by their users)— it dates back, in North America, to roughly 2011, when Apple put a readily accessible Emoji keyboard in iOS 5 for the iPhone. Which means that in a few years, Face With Tears of Joy vanquished the 3,000-year-old symbol “~” called Tilde, which is at the top left-hand corner of our keyboard. Tilde is used as a symbol for approximation. Let me tell you briefly about ~! It was one of the most common symbols used in written language for a long time but was overtaken by LOL in three years! That is the power of Emojis!
Then comes the issue, are Emojis the right way to communicate? I think so because when we communicate with each other on social media, it is more of an informal discussion. In our lives now social media communications are very large in volume. Formal work or business related communication is still a letter or an email! You may send an informal consent for a purchase order on WA, but will end with, “Purchase Order follows”. Of course, there are personal feuds or lover’s tiffs that can happen on WhatsApp. Now I have passed that stage but had WA been available in my younger days, I would rather have used Emojis. If I had to show my displeasure, I would have used 😕☹😒 instead of saying, “I am unhappy or sad because you said blah blah on phone!” This one sentence would lead to so much more exchange, of initially tough words, and maybe then harsh words. 🙂🙂
Spelling mistakes or deliberate spelling errors are part of communication. ध चा मा is a famous historical saying in Maratha history during the time of Peshwas. There was an order to धरा someone, means capture someone. ध चा मा means the letter ध was replaced by मा . The order became मारा, someone, means kill someone! Don’t be under the misconception that such errors can’t happen while replying using Emoji. The following Emojis are next to each other on the keyboard, 👏👄. A young man wanted to appreciate what his female boss had achieved. By mistake, he sent 👄 EMoji instead of 👏. This was before, “delete message” facility in WhatsApp. Sheepishly he went to the boss to apologize. His boss said, “Meet me in the evening!” The office was almost empty when he went to her cabin. He was shocked when his boss replied to him with,😘😘 in person! Boss is always right!