The Emoji Evolution

Where it started, what’s changed, and why to steer clear of the *plug* emoji

by Sierra Buck + Olivia Jebrine

Nowadays, sending an emoji or having a “reaction” to someone’s message is a show of friendliness and comfort. Whether it’s the laughing emoji, a smiling emoji, a sunglasses emoji (shoutout to THE Steve Cody) or an one with a party hat on, it’s a way we can further communicate in this virtual world where emotion can feel muted. The evolution of emojis that we all have come to love first began on November 1, 1997 when J-Phone released their first mobile phone. There were only 90 black and white (yes, totally retro) emojis ranging from sunshine to a bear to an airplane. In February of 1999, Shigetaka Kurita, a Japanese mobile phone operator NTT DoCoMo, created 176 colorful emojis.

Fast Forward to 2008, Apple first released their set of emojis for their Japanese market with their IOS2.2 software and eventually added global access with their IOS 5 software in 2011. In 2012, Apple released iOS6 which launched a series of same-sex couple emojis; a milestone considering this was when states were deciding whether to legalize same-sex marriage. The year following, emojipedia was born, and the word “emoji” was formally added to the dictionary. Above all else, in the same year Katy Perry released her “Roar” music video, which includes a section dedicated to a conversation amongst her friends by way of strictly emoji use. In 2015, skin color was added to Emoji’s. In 2016, there was Emojicon.

Emojis have morphed into something so much more than small creatures on our phones. They’re now known as a level of politeness when a thumbs up emoji is given to show acknowledgement of someone’s message or a heart emoji as a sign of comfort (or as the Gen Zers use, the skull emoji to show something is funny).

However, an overuse of emojis has surfaced, requiring people to cut back and know when it’s appropriate to use one in a professional setting – and, of course, with overuse also comes misuse. Back in its humble beginnings, emojis were simple and straightforward. With new additions to emojis (when you think about it, there’s an emoji for just about anything these days), there now exists a layered complexity of appropriateness and knowing who you can pull a Katy Perry Roar music video complete emoji conversation with, and who you can’t. For example, sending a Christmas tree during the holidays would be appropriate to send to a Christian coworker, but maybe not your entire company. Similarly, sending a cigarette emoji would be inappropriate to add into a work email, even on a Friday afternoon.

Personally, we are HUGE emoji lovers, as our coworkers and partners can attest to. Using appropriate emojis in the workplace can be seen as an extension of kindness and friendliness, especially if your coworker is part of Gen Z. But don’t allow the casual nature of an emoji-loving workplace blur the lines of what may be offensive, or misunderstood (i.e., the plug emoji).