"I never use emojis" was a fairly common statement until about 2016. By 2019, however, even digital laggards have begun jumping on the emoji boat.
People like emojis for a lot of reasons. For one, they're useful. A couple of flowers or a pair of prayer-like pleading hands can go a long way in warming up a terse message or request. In addition, saying something pithy with a single word is difficult using a text-based language, but a "face with rolling eyes" or a "face with tears of joy" emoji can say it all.
In addition, emojis help cyber-speech work more like face-to-face communication, where meaning is just as often shared through a look or a glare as it is through words. So emojis, too, allow digital meaning-sharing to occur on a more implied level.
The latest update to the emoji list, designated Emoji 12.0, was released on February 5 by the Unicode Consortium (a California-based non-profit organisation that creates text-processing standards and code used by most of the world) and includes 230 new characters. That's quite a leap from the 157 new characters added in 2018, and the update includes highly requested emojis like a waffle, a sloth, a kite, and two types of dog on a lead.
A new yawning face emoji is guaranteed to be popular in social media banter given both its literal meaning and sarcastic implication. Similarly, users will undoubtedly enjoy applying the implications of the new finger-pinch emoji - though an exasperated "this close" is plenty for this writer.
A world of symbols
Representation is a big theme in this year's release. New gender and skin-tone inclusive characters add a whopping 71 new variations to the "people holding hands" emoji. The changes reflect the high number of requests for more emojis that represent mixed-race and black families, according to a recent blog post on Emojipedia. Excluding the variations, the 2019 release includes 57 distinct new emojis.
The update also includes a number of characters representing people with disabilities. There are now emojis to represent individuals who are deaf, in wheelchairs, and walking with canes. A number of associated objects have also been included such as prosthetic limbs and hearing aids.
More internationally representative emojis have been added as well, including an Indian sari, a Hindu temple, and a cup of mate. A set of emojis showing a person kneeling has also been added, and the popular heart-shaped emoji is now available in white and chocolate-brown colours.
The new additions aim to strengthen what has become a globally-shared language of symbolic expression. Although how the language is used and what the symbols mean is highly contextual and varies by group, there is no doubt that emojis have made for a more sophisticated cyber-lingo than the "brb", "ttyl", and "gr8" of earlier Internet messaging days.