Why 140 Characters, When One Will Do? Tracing The Emoji Evolution The smiley face and heart icons popular in text messages predate today's smartphones. To trace their roots, you have to go back to Japan in the mid-1990s, when pagers were all the rage with teens.
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Why 140 Characters, When One Will Do? Tracing The Emoji Evolution

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Why 140 Characters, When One Will Do? Tracing The Emoji Evolution

Why 140 Characters, When One Will Do? Tracing The Emoji Evolution

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/326937998/327064771" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Next up in tech something infinitely lighter.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

That's right a very brief two eyes, at the earth globe of smiley faces.

SIEGEL: Melissa, please translate into English.

BLOCK: OK Robert, that's emoji speak for a very brief look at the world of Emoji. And for those unfamiliar with emoji, they're those cartoonlike images used on smart phones and the Internet in place of text.

SIEGEL: A heart, winking eye, a cheeseburger - the most familiar one's are yellow smiley faces, all variations.

BLOCK: A winking smile for instance. Emoji are standardized just like every other language on your phone and this month the Unicode Consortium approved some 250 new emoji. Unicode is an international nonprofit that sets the industry standard for computer text and here are some of the new characters, try using these in a sentence Robert.

SIEGEL: A hot pepper, a chipmunk, a camera with a flash.

BLOCK: A passenger ship, an oil drum, a golfer.

SIEGEL: Fork and knife with plates, derelict house building.

BLOCK: And man in business suit levitating.

SIEGEL: As one does so often in a business suit. Now there's also an overt insult included in the new characters, that's something new. It's called reverse hand with middle finger extended.

BLOCK: Aha. But where did emoji come from? For that we'd need to trade in our smart phones for pagers and head back to the 1990s. A Japanese telecom company called DoCoMo was the first to use Emoji. The ability to send an image of a cartoon heart was one of the special features on DoCoMo pagers.

SIEGEL: And Japanese teenagers hearted it. Shigetaka Kurita was working at DoCoMo, is credited with creating the first Emoji in the late 90s. We asked him about his inspiration and he told us...

SHIGETAKA KURITA: (Japanese spoken).

SIEGEL: I designed them myself he says, based on pictograms commonly seen around the city or from Japanese cartoons.

BLOCK: One early user of emoji was Takehiro Ariga, he's now editor of the Japanese trend magazine Nikkei Trendy. He says people loved it because it resolved miscommunication.

TAKEHIRO ARIGA: Japanese hate direct communication. So saying my emotion by using emoji or picture is better way to express myself in more gentle, softer way.

SIEGEL: Well fast forward now, more than a decade and emoji are on nearly every phone. Apple added an emoji keyboard to its operating system for the phone in 2011 and the rest as they say is...

BLOCK: symbol for an open book.

SIEGEL: I was going to say history.

BLOCK: This is NPR News.

SIEGEL: This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

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