Many would wonder why the New York Museum of Modern Art would bother with an Emoji exhibit. After all, what is so artistic about a few odd symbols and rudimentary drawings of everyday products or items? These little symbols are the original 176 tiny designs are a gift to the museum from the Japanese phone company, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone that released these first 12-by-12 pixel emoji back in 1999. Paola Antonelli, the senior curator of the museum’s department of architecture and design, said in an email that art and design are quite different, yet still play a role in our “digital and the physical space.” He continued, “[Emoji] as a concept go back in the centuries to ideograms, hieroglyphics, and other graphic characters, enabling us to draw this beautiful arch that covers all of human history. There is nothing more modern than timeless concepts such as these.”
These little symbols – most known for their smiley faces – are so much more than fun little images. When first developed they were used by Japanese mobile operators and the developer, Shigetaka Kurita, said he took inspiration for their design from symbols used to forecast the weather. Within a mere 11 years later emoji were translated into the Unicode standard. This standardization meant that a user in Europe could send an emoji on their iPhone and another user could receive it in the US on their Android device. The Unicode standard is recognized all over the world, so there is no misunderstanding what the emoji meant. The Unicode Consortium recognizes almost 1,800 emoji – from a baby bottle to a wine bottle and even a pile of poop in the center - and gets requests for new emoji symbols all of the time.
Emoji, like history and our culture, are in an ever-changing flux. We started out with 176 symbols and are already close to 1,800 emoji. With the advent of smartphones, emojis have become a new way to express ourselves – many people complain that when you text somebody they cannot tell what you are thinking or your frame of mind – an emoji or two can do that for you. In a busy world, an emoji is a quick and easy way to send back a response without getting too involved in a conversation. Unicode 7.0 added about 250 emoji for weddings and Wingdings fonts. Unicode 8.0 added another 41 emoji with articles of sporting equipment, food items such as the taco, signs of the Zodiac, and symbols for places of worship. Even Google is suggesting more Gender equality in future emoji. The cute, little, emoji have become a big part of our lives and how we communicate with one another. It also doesn't hurt that they can help to put a smile on our faces.